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Setbacks don't define you

This is the post I wrote on social media two years ago at the end of my failed trial at the SWR Symphonieorchester as principal flute. I decided to publish it here because back then it had seemed to resonate with countless people, and I thought it might help others bounce back from their own setbacks and struggles. I didn't change one word from the original post.

It is with regret that I have to announce I am leaving Stuttgart and the SWR  Symphonieorchester at the end of this month. As many of you might have known, I was on trial this whole past year, and in the end things didn’t work out between the orchestra and me. I won’t lie, this isn’t the result I was hoping for, and finding out I am not what the orchestra was looking for did hurt quite a bit. It still does. On the other hand, I am going back to Luxembourg, and to its wonderful and very warm orchestra, where I spent the last eight years of my life, and which I call home. I am lucky that I could keep my job open in case I didn’t pass probation, and I am very grateful to go back to the place where I have spent some of the best years of my life.  This is a weird mixture of feelings I have been living with the past few weeks. I am sad, regretful, and yet relieved that this time of not knowing is over. I am exhausted and weak, yet the anger of not being enough fuels me with the energy and the will to be already planning for the next step.  I’ll be honest: despite my past achievements and victories, this major setback has made me feel like a failure. I am past the worst of it, I think, but this awful sensation of spiraling down sometimes comes back and takes me unaware. It is a reminder. A reminder that no matter who you are and what you’ve done in the past, as an artist (or should I say as a human being?) you will always have to question yourself. There will be no respite from yourself. As soon as you think you arrived at a point you wanted to reach, there will be something to show you all the ways you still have to improve and work on yourself. Failing hurts. Not being enough hurts. It hurts all the more because as musicians, we pour all our hearts and souls into what we are doing. Then a failure feels like a rejection of our entire being. That’s how I felt at first.  Thankfully I know better now.

Here is what I think. Failure doesn’t define you. In fact, failing doesn’t define you any more than winning does. Winning the Kobe Competition in 2017 didn’t define me, just as not passing trial at the SWR doesn’t define me. What you do of achievements and setbacks is what defines you. You chose what you do of victories and losses, and only you can define who and what you are. Winning Kobe means a lot and says a lot. But it doesn’t define me, because as a person, I am so much more than just a prize. Deciding to record the complete flute works of André Jolivet and going through with it in just one and a half year, in the middle of moving, having a new job in a new country and being on trial, this defines me.  Not passing trial and still deciding to go through the end of my contract even if I knew it would be one of the hardest things I had ever done, this defines me. Our choices define us, not results that are out of our hands. We decide what we are.  I might not be Principal at the SWR anymore at the end of next week, but I will be a better person for it in the end, because I will decide to take it as the opportunity to become a better musician. I will forever be grateful to my colleagues of the SWR, who have been so friendly to me until the very end, and who taught me so very much! I had one tough year, but it was also a wonderful time! I won’t ever forget the warm welcome and this few months together. And above all I will remember the music I had the chance to be part of. For now, I’m moving to Luxembourg tomorrow, and then coming back to play my last week with the SWR. I  will enjoy every moment of it, take the experience and music in, then our ways will part. And there will be no anger, no ill will and no bitterness. Just the sorrow of leave-taking and the smell of new beginnings.


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