I’ve experienced many failures in my life, and the most tragically painful ones often involve other people who’ve failed me. There’s one kind of failure however that has a particularly unique sting to it, and that is the kind of failure only a creator experiences. This is the experience of pouring your heart and soul into a creation only to have it ignored, rejected, or worst of all completely ripped to shreds by a critic.
As a college student, I was getting my Bachelor’s degree in music composition. While my expertise was in playing guitar, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and take on orchestration. This means I would be composing music for a symphony orchestra to play. There was a contest held by my college that would reward the winning orchestral composition with a live performance of the piece by the school’s orchestra. I have no idea why, but as soon as I heard about this competition a fire was lit inside of me and I had to win.
I suppose that was a bit unrealistic seeing as how I was completely outmatched. I was just some wannabe rockstar guitar player competing against composition students getting their Master’s degrees. One thing I did have though was a big enough ego to believe I could, and would learn how to write the greatest piece of orchestral music the school of music had ever heard.
In addition to honing my skills with a private instructor during the Fall semester, I ended up spending my entire Christmas break studying everything I could get my hands on about orchestration, analyzing classical and modern orchestral scores, and listening to endless hours of symphonic music.
When I returned to classes after break, the deadline to submit the piece was moved forward giving me less time than I anticipated. I now had about one week to finish my masterpiece that I had only barely started. So I did what any reasonable person would do that has a goal in mind – I went days without sleep, skipped classes, and simply did not leave my desk to stop working on my score until I had to go to the bathroom or eat. Never in my life have I worked so hard on something, although looking back it was less about working hard and more about being completely consumed in the work in the ultimate state of creative flow.
Somehow, I made the deadline and turned in what I believed to be the absolute greatest piece of music I had ever written. I smugly walked away imagining the judge’s jaw dropping to the floor after he hears such a masterpiece. Now I just had to play the waiting game to see the results of the competition that I was pretty sure I had in the bag.
I ended up being right about one thing, I was able to beat the other people I was facing off against. I didn’t however anticipate what would end up happening – they decided not to have any winner of the competition. They also offered reasons why my score, no matter how good it was, had its problems. Looking back they did have some good points, but I only remember rejecting everything that was said and adamantly defending my work as being more than good enough to deserve the once in a lifetime opportunity to hear it played by a live orchestra.
To have the greatest masterpiece you’ve ever created rejected can only be described as “soul-crushing.” Especially in light of going days without sleep and pushing the physical limits of my body to create it. That’s not counting the countless hours of study just to be able to pull off writing something like that in the first place with limited experience. Yet somehow despite all of the sadness, anger, and feeling of rejection, I still managed to walk away feeling proud of what I had accomplished. Little did I know this was only going to be the beginning of a series of failed creations.
Stay tuned for more epic fails…