Saturday, December 31, 2011


I love New Year's Resolutions. It is very much the style to dis them, or to talk about making "real" ones so that you avoid disappointment and failure. I have read several articles on this topic over the last few days. Don't set those big, unbounded goals, like losing weight or quitting smoking, because you are bound to disappoint yourself. Make it manageable, some simple daily goal that you know you can achieve.

Now this is very sensible, to choose something you can and will actually DO. In fact, are not the small daily steps the road to the big, unbounded goal? Seems kind of...obvious...but in any case, yes, bravo, set the easy-to-meet criteria and get going, put one foot in front of the other und so weiter.

But can I just raise my hand and say a few words in defense - nay, in FAVOR - of disappointment and failure (sigh. Are we really grown so afraid of these things)?

I'm an unabashed believer in the big dream, and I believe not on faith but on evidence. Brothers and sisters, I have seen people reinvent their lives over and over again. People start businesses. People quit drinking. People get married, have children, create art, move to new cities, speak in foreign tongues, and then they throw everything in their life up in the air and try something new. They set their sights on a prize far off, and then they move.

And yes, small daily steps are part of that journey. But so are the long vision, the dare, the jump off the cliff into the unknown. And so are failure and disappointment.

One of the many great things that performing can teach you is this: error is part of learning. We spend all kinds of time in practice rooms learning our music. And then, when we start staging rehearsals, all kinds of musical mistakes get made. As new information comes in, and as new skills are put together, details get temporarily dropped. It's not a clean process. The messiness is part of the learning - it IS the learning.

Performers screw up. Parents do too, children, friends, colleagues, everybody. You resolve to do something and then you don't do it. But are you maybe just in the middle of learning how?

It's a new, shiny year, which is of course just a made-up boundary. Make yourself some promises and dream yourself some dreams, and don't misunderstand success to be something so small that a little momentary heartbreak can kill it. Get out there and mess something up, cry over the spilled milk. There is such reward waiting over there, past whatever boundary you've made up, wherever you imagine is too far.