I sing and play guitar in a band for a few hundred people each week at our church. I’ve been doing this for the past seven years or so, and it’s really helped me become comfortable performing in front of larger crowds.
Ironically, the performances that have helped me most aren’t the good ones, but rather the times I’ve failed. (You can’t really tell how comfortable you are with performing in front of people until you’ve failed numerous times.) And there are times when no matter how much preparation you put into something, something weird happens.
For example, last week my guitar strap plug popped out of the guitar in the middle of a song. This meant that my left hand had to grab the guitar as it swung outward, leaving me holding the guitar outstretched while singing. I managed to grab the loose end of the strap and reattach it to the guitar and pull the strap back on, all without having to stop the song or bring too much attention to myself. (In fact, my band mates didn’t even see it happen and they were right next to me.)
I call this a “resounding success” when you finish the song while avoiding disaster.
As I’ve become more aware of my failures and ability to respond to them, I’ve figured out that you can’t keep a cool head without a few key elements:
- You’ve done it before
- You can laugh at yourself or the situation
If you can do both of these things, you’ve reached the point that you’re comfortable with failure.
You’ve done this before
About 5 years ago something like my strap becoming unplugged in the middle of a song with hundreds of people watching would have made me drop to the floor, curl into the fetal position and start sucking my thumb. Now, because I’ve failed so many times before, I know a few things. I know that most people won’t notice (if I stay calm) and I also know that nobody really cares.
I’ve botched chords, forgotten words, and can’t count the times I’ve started songs in the wrong key. I’ve seen pretty much everything, and nothing really surprises me too much when it happens.
You can’t become comfortable with failing unless you’ve failed before, and you can’t fail unless you TRY SOMETHING. Over and over. Seven years of failing on a semi-regular basis every week means I’m pretty good at recovering at disaster when it happens.
You can laugh at yourself, right?
The key is being able to recover, and at the very worst, laugh about it and start over.
You have to remember that people generally want to help you. They want you to succeed. I learned quickly that failure is actually really endearing to people if you’re able to laugh at yourself. Fortunately, this comes really easy to me, and it proves that I’m not a robot.
Laughter is, after all, the best medicine.
Disaster can go down at any time, no matter how prepared you are. You might start the song in the wrong key, you might misspell an important person’s name, or you might accidentally offend someone.
Laugh it off, get used to the feeling, and try again. If you’re trying to become excellent at what it is you do, this won’t be the last time you fall on your face.
Take it from Dr. Disaster ;)