The other day I wondered aloud on Facebook about what a bio with only my failures would look like. So often when we look at our bios, we look amazing. And that’s really the point. However, what we don’t see is the blood, sweat, tears, and failures.
Occasionally I have shared some of my own failures or misadventures in my career. So now I have taken the extra step and rewritten my bio with only my failures. Not all of them, but a good amount of failures I thought were the lowest points of my life at each of those moments.
It’s a great exercise in empathy and self-worth. It’s also a great reminder that in order to succeed, there must be some very big failures and roadblocks. This was a fun exercise, and it is something I recommend every professional do. Share your failure bios in the comments!
Standing out of her elementary school orchestra at the not so early age of 10, Holly Mulcahy was identified as the only 4th grader to defy the universal bow direction of the other children. As every child moved their violin bows down, Holly’s moved up. Her parents and orchestra teacher made note of this feat.
After many disappointments during high school, and complaining about those disappointments to her mom, these wise words were shared, “Maybe the other kids are practicing harder.”
Auditioning for the prestigious music school, The Peabody Conservatory, and subsequently being rejected, Holly spent a year at the University of Northern Colorado where she was found in the practice rooms by the university orchestra conductor who said, “It’s apparent you are only practicing concertos. Let’s get some orchestra music learned, shall we?”
The following year Holly was accepted into Peabody only to find out that at her orchestra placement exam, it was strongly advised she switch to viola. Standing by her desire to continue violin, Holly gratefully accepted last chair in the second violin section of the lesser of two orchestras Peabody had to offer.
After switching to a music education degree and working summers on a water taxi instead of traveling to a summer music festival to continue studying with her Peabody violin professor, Holly’s violin professor suggested she find a different professor and kicked her out of the studio.
The new professor shared much wisdom with statements like, “It’s a good thing you are a music education major because you’ll never make it in an orchestra.”
After graduation, Mulcahy auditioned for 10 different orchestras. For the first few auditions, the adventure was rough. In the San Antonio Symphony audition, Holly kept playing a D# where there was none in Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony. No reason. Just kept doing it. This didn’t happen at home during practice.
In the Seattle Symphony auditions, Holly tried to combat nerves by unwittingly taking an entire Inderal pill to keep the shakes down. (Inderal is a beta blocker, used frequently by musicians to keep the heart steady and to control shakes and nerves. A typical dosage used by musicians is a quarter pill or less). While utterly relaxed, Holly was instructed by the audition monitor, that, “If you feel you need to play anything again, the audition committee welcomes that.” So Holly proceeded to make a mistake in a hard lick from Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. Feeling welcome to play the excerpt again, she calmly made that mistake over, and over, and over, replaying that hard lick four times. Badly.
In Detroit Symphony auditions, she nearly had a perfect run through of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Overture. During last line of that excerpt, Holly thought to herself, “Wow, this is going great, I can’t believe how perfect this is!” And then subsequently miscounted the last two measures. Walking out of the auditorium, the monitor of that audition said, “You know you miscounted that last bit, right?”
During Holly’s very first concertmaster post, she attempted to please everyone by saying, “Let’s just free bow this.” (Normally the concertmaster puts in the bow directions. Sometimes people don’t agree with those directions. Free bowing refers to the individuals getting personal choice on bowing direction; it’s rarely a good idea.)
In addition to her life as a violinist, Holly has never been able to properly poach an egg, nor maintain a respectable fitness routine. She also lives with a misfit cat who hates violin and or music.