How a Series of Failed Auditions Prepared Me for the Real World
Why we can’t go through life treating our failures like setbacks.
My university — though not a performing arts college by any means — had a very strong music program. It’s one of many reasons it ended up being the only school I applied to, and therefore, the one I eagerly decided to attend.
Despite being what we’ll call “shy,” I found myself standing in front of many judges, choir directors, and audiences growing up. At some point, music became a form of expression as important to me as writing in my journal or hanging out with friends. It awakened a part of me it often seemed like nothing else could.
It was one of few things that motivated me to get involved in extracurricular activities, despite being socially awkward and preferring a book or an album to engaging in small talk.
To this day, music is still the driving force behind most of the things I do every day. But it began with singing in a church Christmas play when I was in second grade (a literal choir of angels?). And that was only the beginning.
From what I can remember, I went to my first “official” audition when I was 9. I don’t remember being scared to sing in front of my town’s children’s choir director. I just remember not getting in, but being encouraged to still participate in the school choir anyway. Anyone could be in that one. No audition necessary.
That, I think, was my first lesson: That you don’t have to be in the elite group to still do what makes you happy.
Fast forward to the first (and only) time I auditioned for a musical. I remember the hours I spent preparing a song and monologue for the drama and choir teachers at my junior high.
I also remember the audition itself not going very well. I knew about halfway through my recited monologue that I wasn’t going to even be cast as a fork (we were doing Beauty and the Beast). I might have done OK on the song, but the monologue completely tanked. I was definitely not an actress.
But I got to be in the pit choir! Which I suppose taught me that it’s still fun to be part of a big production even if you aren’t the star of the show.
Once again: You can still participate even if you aren’t the one in costume. But I learned something else important from that experience. Sometimes you don’t know you aren’t ready for something until you try it and fall flat on your face. And that’s OK.
So far, none of these failures had fully discouraged me from singing. I kept doing it. I even subjected myself to more auditions. Why? Because I enjoyed torturing myself? No — challenges are good. For me, anyway.
It took two tries before I made it into my high school’s elite choir. I only gave it a third chance because those two failures made me (maybe a little obsessively) determined to succeed. And I did. Barely.
Some things aren’t worth trying twice. Some are worth trying as many times as it takes, I guess.
In college, I was not a music major. But I took a choral elective and paid extra for voice lessons because these things still mattered to me — even though I knew I would never make it into the elite music group that paid their performers to tour around the country. I never even tried to go that big. I considered it, but you do have to know your limitations.
So I went small, auditioning for a group that put students into small worship bands (Christian school life) and sent them out into the community to perform and volunteer and do some good.
This, I knew, was something I might actually be able to pull off. I’d done sort of the same thing at my church in high school. No big deal, right?
This was — as you might guess — another failure. I didn’t even get put into any of the groups as backup.
Which actually bothered me enough to email the coordinator after that rejection and ask if there was anything I could do to improve in time for another audition the next year. Which absolutely terrified me, to be honest.
I had never done this before — sending myself back into the battlefield to revisit my pain and confront the people who turned me down. It seemed so foreign to me. But somehow, so right.
I don’t remember what the response to that email was, if it was kind and helpful or vague and forgettable. But I do remember getting a quick response from the person I’d written to. And somehow, that was enough.
It made me feel less like a tossed-out nobody and more like someone who had almost hit the mark, but didn’t quite make it. That time, anyway.
I never did end up making it into that group. Or any group, for that matter. I stayed in the al-girls’ choir for three years and stayed in voice lessons one more year even after I dropped my music elective to make time for an internship, a job, and finishing up both of my majors senior year.
I don’t have any regrets, though. Part of me wonders, sometimes, what would have happened if I’d tried a little harder. If I’d make music a bigger slice of the pie that consumed my postsecondary life.
But look at how much I learned from trying and miserably failing. How many people can say they’re happier having failed so many times at making a dream come true?
Will I ever audition for something else — community theater? A church choir? The Voice? Maybe. Maybe not.
But even if I don’t, the lessons I’ve gathered from every failed audition have helped me establish a career in something (slightly) more practical than singing.
Here’s what you can take away from all this:
- Continue pursuing your hobbies even if you don’t make it into the most recognizable group of people doing what you love. Find other ways to do it on your own time for no reason other than it makes you happy.
- You don’t always know what you’re good (or terrible) at until you try something new. It’s better to know than to spend your whole life wondering “what if.”
- Sometimes it’s OK to try again. If you can learn from your failures and do better next time, you really have nothing to lose. Within reason, of course.
- You don’t always have to Go Big. Sometimes, it’s good to start small.
- When you aren’t sure why you achieved (or didn’t) the results you did, it doesn’t hurt to ask. In some cases, you might get extremely helpful feedback, even if it’s just “you need more experience.” Sometimes that’s just what you need to hear.
- Never say never. Keep doing that thing that inspires and fulfills you, even if it never ends up being your career or even a side hustle.
Failing is discouraging. It can make you feel like you aren’t doing enough or that you’ll never succeed. But everything changes when you make the active choice to learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward.
In the real world, you might never make it onto the team that gets all the glory. You might never learn why you didn’t get a promotion over someone else. You might never see one of your dreams come true — at least, not in the way you’ve always imagined.
But you can still sing in the shower, and write music as it comes to you. You can still cheer strangers on while watching reality TV. You can still do everything possible to be able to say you tried.
Some people never try. Make sure you’re one of those people who never really stops.