From the bottomless pit of insecurity to the exhilarating heights of success : reflecting on the past year.

October 18, 2017

Dear all,

 

it has been a while since my last post on this blog.

 

There have been some new developments in my life that have been filling me with thrill and excitement again.

 

Indeed, I am incredibly glad to share that I have been appointed Solo Flute at the Radio Symphony Orchestra in Stuttgart (SWR).

 

It was something I didn't really dare hoping for, even during my preparation (if you want to know more about that I explain my process here).

We all have dreams, and they usually stay just that - dreams.

I had two big ones : bring back a prize from Kobe, and get a solo flute position. I still can't believe they both came true in such a short amount of time.

 

I won't ever repeat it enough, I am beyond grateful for all the people who were by my side along the way. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about everything that happened to get me here. And I reckoned that maybe it was time to share some of it.

Because it shows that I didn't get everything I wanted on the first try.

It shows that I, too, hate failure and have the unfortunate tendency to take it personally.

And it shows that you grow from setbacks.

 

When I think about where I am now - with a first prize of a big competition, and soon a solo flute position in a prestigious orchestra - I am over the moon. These past months have truthfully been some of the happiest ones in my life.

However, I also can't help but thinking about how miserable I was feeling just one year ago, and reflect on what happened in this short amount of time to change me and my life so much.

 

As artists, we are very emotional beings, and it is sometimes very hard not to take rejection or failure as a personal insult. I experienced that quite a lot myself.

 

Almost exactly one year ago, after having spent yet another summer practicing, I auditioned for two different jobs in the span of two weeks. Granted, it was not just any jobs, they were huge (think Vienna Philharmonic huge). So I wasn't expecting to get them at all. I always liked a good challenge for the sake of it. What I wanted, though, was to play at my best, and to pass as many rounds as possible, in order to go back home feeling like I had given everything I had.

Instead, I just played badly. Well, it happens to everyone I guess. But I played badly on both auditions.

I was out directly after first round. Twice in a row. In the span of two weeks.

Let me tell you, it was painful.

Of course it hurt my pride- as musicians we all have one!

This time, though, it went deeper than just my ego.

I had faced rejection before : at the Lyon Conservatory entrance exam, at national competitions, at other auditions...

But usually, I nursed my wounded pride back to health with a lot of tears and chocolate, and after two days it would pass.

Last year, it didn't pass. Not after two days, not after two weeks, not even after two months. I felt like a worthless musician, and I started doubting my entitlement in taking part in such big events, even as I started preparing for the Kobe Competition. I don't know why the feeling of rejection decided to stay with me for so long last year. Maybe because it was the first time it happened after my graduation, and the absence of a mentor at my side kept me from finding my balance ? Maybe because, as I grow older, I find fighting the doubts harder. In any case, I found myself at one of the deepest points of my self-esteem as a flutist.

But in the end, this too did pass. After weeks upon weeks of going home in a desperate frame of mind, months upon months of fighting against my flute and myself, I suddenly saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I started to understand that the outcome of such a situation didn't define me - neither as a musician, nor as a human being.

And I remembered that it was alright to fail.

I remembered that it was alright to fall, as long as I stood up again.

That it was also alright to feel fear, but that it really didn't matter, because in the end, isn't everybody scared ?

And I also understood that I didn't have anything to prove to anybody, bar myself.

 

It was almost as deafening an epiphany as the moment I realized I had been practicing all wrong (see here).

One day I was going back home in tears again, the next I was satisfied with my practice session.

The whole process took so much time, happiness and energy out of me, I almost wish it never happened. But I also think it helped me remember a very important thing : that I needed to enjoy playing the flute. I was after all the only one deciding to inflict such ordeals to myself, so I at least needed to find joy in it.

From these hard months, I will never forget the lessons I learnt. I would also like to share them, because who knows ? Maybe these will be the words some of you need to find their way back to the joy of practicing and their sense of self-Worth.

 

So let me tell you something.

We all take things to heart, because we invest so much time and energy into our music. It is a strength to pour our very soul into our goals, but when we encounter failure, it can become a weakness.

Here is what I learnt this past year : when you prepare for an audition or a similar situation, you have to also be prepared for the outcome, no matter what it is.

Of course success is great. But failing to get a position or a prize doesn't mean anything.

Anything.

The most important thing to remember is not to take the result personally. So what if your playing didn't please the guys sitting in the comfy chairs ? If they don't like your sound, well you wouldn't have been happy there anyway. So what if you played badly ? I am pretty sure it happens to everyone.

So what if you didn't pass this round ? Well, there will be other opportunities. Just as this one door is closing, don't focus on the noise it makes while slamming. You would miss the softer creaking of the next one opening.

 

I had to sink very low into insecurity to remember what I instinctively seemed to know at first, and that I somehow forgot in between all these auditions and competitions. Maybe I did too much of them and kind of lost myself in the process. Now it doesn't really matter anymore, because I found my way back to knowing that I am not defined by my results.

I know you are thinking 'how easy to say that after winning Kobe!', but I actually felt that way before the competition, luckily enough.

Two weeks before taking off for Japan, I went to Rotterdam to audition for the solo flute position. Guess what happened. I flew out in the first round - again.

Was I sad ? Was I angry at myself ? Disappointed ? Yes to all of them.

But did I think I was worthless ? Not anymore.

And two weeks later, I won a first prize at the Kobe Competition.

And now, three more months later, I didn't go home after the first round at my last audition - I got the position.

 

And if that  isn't a proof that results don't define who you are, that failing doesn't mean anything, and that it is never over until you decide to quit, then I don't know what is !

 

I feel blessed to have come so far, and to have had so many of my dreams come true. I wish you all experience it someday. I know how fickle such bliss can be and I am doing my best to enjoy this incredible feeling one day at a time.

It is my hope that these humble words can help even one of you through the hard times a musician can come across.

So please don't forget : when you feel like you are a worthless human being over a competition or audition result, you are doing something wrong.

You are thinking wrong. Your whole philosophy is wrong. You need to stop spiraling down and change your vision of life.

 

Lots of people were there for me during my own descending spiral and helped me get out of this bottomless pit of self-doubt. If you ever get there, I hope you find someone to lend you a hand as well.

 

 

Until next time,

 

Hélène

 

 

 

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