Dealing With Rejection and Failure

Over the past month, Pearl and I have watched two shows that caused me to reflect on some of the “less successful” (to put it lightly) aspects of my past. The first was a Without a Trace episode about a kid who was picked on, (I guess it’s called bullying today) by his classmates. The second was a movie on Hulu called The Browning Version.

Without a Trace

For both of these, there were moments during the show when my past hurts welled back up inside of me. The Without a Trace episode brought back very painful memories of my junior high years, in Hawaii, when I was beat up on a regular basis. Although the scenes in the episode were not exactly like my situation, there was enough similarity to trigger emotions that I haven’t felt in decades.

I was often stripped naked by the “bullies” before they beat me up. In those days my sanctuary was the band room. I knew that, when I was there, Mr. Hamm would keep those kids away from me. So I spent a lot of time in the band room, practicing and playing with the other band kids. But one time, when Mr. Hamm had to leave the band room on a short errand, the “bullies” barged into the band room, stripped me naked, beat me up, and locked me in a tuba locker.

Here's a picture of me (Eddie Lewis) in Maui.

Here’s a picture of me in Maui.

But that wasn’t the worst of those events. The worst, at least from my perspective anyway, was when I was attacked in the locker room showers. The locker rooms were right across from the home economics building. The kids tackled me while I was still wet from my shower, picked me up (there were about six of them I think), took me to the back door and swung me out the door before locking it. My first reaction was to the pain from being thrown and hitting a poll with my side. But as I came to realize where I was, I was overwhelmed with shame. I was standing naked in front of about fifty girls who were waiting for the bell to ring. The only way for me to get my clothes on was to walk past them, around the locker room building, to the front door. It was by far the most humiliating day of my life.

Now, while these bullies were beating me up, they told me WHY they were doing it. They told me as they beat me up why they hated me so much. It was because I was white. Yes, I know first hand what it means to experience prejudice, discrimination and racism. I know, from genuine experiences, what it is liked to be hated because my skin is a different color. I lived that way for two years of my life.

Of course, there are those who have told me (the defensive non-whites that is) that the REAL reason I was beat up so often was because I was an easy target (certainly, they reasoned, no whites have ever been beaten up for racial reasons). By that time in my life, I had already given my life to Christ. I didn’t believe in fighting. So usually I just took it. I let them beat up on me without making any effort to fight back. So even though the actual words from the mouths of the “bullies” were racially motivated and hateful, there is probably some truth to the fact that I got more than my fair share of that hatred because I didn’t fight back.

Note: Today, I’m not as convinced that not fighting back is always the right Christian answer. But that’s a different topic for a different day.

Watching that Without a Trace episode brought those old emotions back to the surface. I could empathize with that kid so well because I have lived it myself. It is not a “what if” scenario in my life. I actually lived it.

The Browning Version

I experienced a very similar reaction while watching The Browning Version. It’s a movie about a teacher, Andrew Crocker-Harris, who is dealing with all of his failures. Although he began his career as one of the top minds in the country (England), he had experienced a constant string of failures from the time he left university until the day he was forced to retire, without pension, from his teaching job.

At one point in the movie, he was summarizing his list of failures to the man who was having an affair with his wife. As he went through his list, I felt the same sort of empathetic emotions that I felt watching Without a Trace. It was “been there, done that” on steroids!!! I know first hand of the failures “The Croc” (as he was infamously referred to) was dealing with in that movie. I have had a very similar string of failures in my own life and career.

I think it was the number eighteen that first triggered my empathetic emotions. Crocker-Harris was leaving his job after eighteen years and that’s how long I was married to my ex before she left me. So that number probably served as an emotional trigger of sorts. But over and above the infidelity, just looking at the kind of man he was, you know, I can relate to that. I can understand why he was not liked. I can understand because I am that same kind of man. I may not be as sour as he was in the movie…but then…according to the movie, he became increasingly sour as the failures and disappointments mounted. So it was my impression that he wasn’t always as uncaring and unfeeling as he was in the movie. So yeah, I could see myself one day being just as dark and bitter as he was in the movie.

And yes, I am that same kind of person. I am not interested in what is cool. I do not care about sports. I am not one for social drinking or partying and such. I enjoy more enlightening activities. And yes, I understand that this makes me dreadfully boring. I understand that my friends and family would actually spend more time with me if I wasn’t so dull.

Ha! This reminds me of when I was a drinker. He he he… I started drinking beer socially soon after my ex left me. I did this for about eight months before I quit. What I found to be very amazing was how many friends I had while I was drinking! All of a sudden, for the very first time in my life, I had friends who wanted to spend time with me. It’s funny because, when I told some of those friends that I was going to quit drinking, they laughed at me and said, “but Eddie, you never started.” Apparently, two beers is not considered “drinking.” He he he…. But it was enough to make people feel like we had something “fun” in common.

So, no, I am not the kind of person most people like to spend time with. I am as dry, dull and boring as Crocker-Harris was in that movie. And as a result, there are a lot of things in my life that I can look back on and say that I am a failure, rejected by society, a misfit, with no real friends and even some family members who refuse to speak to me.

Dealing With It

But what of it?

As I experienced those empathetic emotions, I thought to myself:

“All my life I have been presented with a choice…a constant choice. I can choose to accept that failure, that rejection, and let it define who I am. Or I can pull my head up out of that muck and see things how they really are.”

None of those things I listed from my past have power over me. They do not define who I am. I am not caught up in reliving those painful moments the way some people do, over and over again.

The truth is, I forgave those bullies immediately after they beat me up. I forgave them every time. In fact, I would have to say that the only way I would have ever let them repeat their crimes was if I HAD forgiven them. Without forgiveness, I would have been less capable of restraining myself.

And by the way, for those of you who think people who do not fight back are cowards, I can tell you from experience that restraint takes far more courage than you will ever need for a fight. I believe it is the cowards who fight, because they do not have what it takes to suffer the shame and humiliation and still hold their heads up high.

And as for my Crocker-Harris-like failures, my great many failures, I happen to know that there is no success without failure. I dare you to ask any successful business man if he has ever experienced failure. The pathway to success IS one long string of failures. It is not only a well known truth in the business world, but also a Biblical fact. The following is only one of many quotes from the Bible that deal with failure:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Cor 12:9-10

So Let’s Get It Right!

And this is where I think Andrew Crocker-Harris had gotten it all wrong. All of us have our own sob stories to tell. But how we live our lives is really a matter of choice. We can choose to live in failure, to live in disappointment, to live in rejection, or we can choose not to. We can let our past pains darken our lives, or we can choose to let God use that pain to bring light into the darkness.

I have a student, Jay Herder, who has been taking lessons with me for about seven years now. The first day I met him, I was impressed by his attitude. It was very early in the morning and the other trumpet students were complaining about having to be up so early for band practice. But Jay bounced into the room saying, “I like the mornings!” He went on about how much he loves to see the sunrise and to hear the birds. He went on for several minutes about all the things he likes about the mornings.

Jay Herder in one of his lessons.

Jay Herder in one of his lessons.

Like all of us, Jay has his own reasons to be dark and bitter. And yet, he does not let his own personal pains, rejections and disappointments ruin his life. Today, Jay is doing well as a college student while also working as an assistant manager at H.E.B. He is also playing his trumpet, active in his church praise and worship team, and volunteers as a fireman. As far as I’m concerned, he’s one of my most “successful” students because he is always moving forward with his life.

In that way, we should all be more like Jay. We should all focus on what’s ahead instead of what lays behind us. Don’t dwell on the rejections and failures of our past. Use those experiences. Learn from them. Let them make us stronger. Then we will be ready to go places we would never be able to go without having lived through those more difficult moments.

Yes, there are times when we will feel sad, hurt, lonely, angry, or disappointed. That’s normal. But it is our choice to not let those feelings define who we are. One thing I know from experience is that when you allow those things define your personality, they feed on you like a cancer…just like they did to Andrew Crocker-Harris in the movie. When you let the rejection, failure and disappointment define you, your life will become increasingly more dark and bitter. You will become lifeless and even hateful. You will blame it on those who hurt you, blame it on circumstance, blame it on your mistakes, but in reality, it was your choice all along. Take it from someone who has more than my share of reasons to be dark and bitter. It is your choice. If I can choose something better, then so can you.

My First Sermon

Interestingly, now that I’ve finished writing this post, I realize that it is very similar to the message God gave me to share in my very first sermon to a church congregation. When Pearl and I were in South Africa in April, I was invited to “share the word” at one of the churches. I asked the Holy Spirit if there was something I should share with them and this post is very similar to what I felt He wanted me to speak about. I had more scriptural references for that message than I do for this post, but it was essentially the same message. Maybe I will share those references in another post.

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South African Birds: Kingfishers

We saw two different kinds of king fishers on our trip to South Africa. Here are a few pictures of a Pied Kingfisher and a Brown-Hooded Kingfisher

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Lead Trumpet Stereo Types

Can you play loud and high? He he he….

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South African Bird Pictures: African Stonechat, Black-Headed Heron, Black-Headed Oriole

I sort of got off schedule with the bird pictures. Sorry about that. Here is the next installment. We are looking at African stonechat, black-headed heron, and black headed oriole.

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Wholesome Musical Priorities: Work/School

What is most important to you? What are your priorities in life? Do you consider yourself selfish or selfless and how does that apply to your music? This is the last post in my series titled Wholesome Musical Priorities. In previous posts in this series we discussed putting your religion first, your health second, and your family third. All of these should be placed higher on your priorities than your music and other things you do for your own fulfillment or pleasure. Today we will add work and/or school to the list.


Selfless Responsibility

People rely on us!

There’s no getting around it. All of us have people in our lives who rely on us in a variety of different ways. Our families rely on us to do our part, to make a living, to make a home, to contribute in a way that benefits everyone in the family. Our co-workers rely on us to pull our weight at work so that everyone enjoys the benefits of producing a quality product. Our customers rely on us. Our communities rely on us. Our religious organizations rely on us. No matter who we are, even the most introverted of us have responsibilities to other people.

In the Wholesome Musical Priorities, we put other things above our work, but that does not mean that work should be neglected. Often times, it is through our jobs that we fulfill our responsibilities to the other people in our lives.

Providing for Our Families

The most important reason for us to work is to provide an income for our families. Remember that family is a higher priority than work. That means this priority isn’t always straight forward. We must work to provide an income for our families, but that work should never become more important to us than our families.

So yes, there are times when the father MUST miss his son’s soccer game or his daughter’s ballet recital because he is busy “putting food on their table and a roof over their heads.” But when that work becomes an obsession that completely removes the husband/father from the lives of his wife and children, then he has gotten his priorities completely turned around.

School for Your Future Family

For those of you who are still school students and don’t have families of your own to support yet, you should take school seriously for the sake of your future families. The work you do in school plays a big role in the way you provide for your family when you have one.

There are some famous rich people who say that getting good grades in school does not translate into having a successful life. I would agree with them except that I think that it gives the wrong impression about school. I agree that if you go to school just to get good grades and impress people, it will not automatically translate into a successful life. But then, what does?

I am “old school” when it comes to getting an education. I believe that you should be going to school to learn. It is what you learn in school that makes the biggest difference later in life. If you have a hunger for learning, it will eventually pay off in ways that will bless your future family.

Where Does Music Fit?

Music should take a lower priority than work and school.

So what does that mean?

It means that you don’t take easy band classes in an effort to avoid taking “hard” classes. It means that you don’t choose to practice instead of doing your homework. It means that you should never be late to class because you were practicing and lost track of time.

That’s what priorities are for. Your priorities help you make decisions before something happens. If you say that music is a lower priority than school, then your actions should be based on those priorities.

For the adults who have jobs and need to support their families, music as a lower priority than work means that you will not spend work hours reading music websites. It means that you will not call in sick so you can play a gig. It means that you will work overtime when asked instead of spending that time doing musical activities.

The Exceptions

The biggest exception to this one point on the priorities list is when what you do for a living is music. Then music is your job and the time you spend practicing, rehearsing and gigging takes a priority over other luxuries you later find an interest in. If you are a professional musician and you don’t spend time practicing, you are hurting your family by limiting how well you are able to provide for them.

Another exception is when music is somehow worked into your workplace. I remember hearing about a factory here in Houston that had an employee jazz band. In a case like that, to a limited extent, what you do for your music partially enhances your work environment.

The same is true if you are involved in music in school. Being in band, choir or orchestra creates a positive learning environment for you and the other students. So as long as music does not become an obsession, it’s okay to spend some of your homework time working on your scales or band music.

What Is Left?

I understand that the picture I am painting here is one that leaves very little time for music. If you follow these priorities, you may feel like there is no time left for your music.

This is only true if you are unorganized. If you only ever do things when you get around to them or when you just happen to think about them, then you probably cannot be a musician AND follow this priority list.

But when you are organized (and I do believe everyone has the capacity to become organized), you can live the enriched lifestyle of someone who has honored all of his/her responsibilities and can now move forward in confidence with your music.

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How Do You Do All That?

I remember once, back in the mid ’90s when I was just getting started online, someone accused me of lying. He said that no one person could do all of the things I had done and still have time to play computer games for a couple hours a day. I understand how unlikely it seems, but I was not a liar. In fact, it never seemed to me like I was getting much done. The truth was that I had been working on my work efficiency for about ten years by that time.

Today I want to share something that became my first step forward in my efforts to achieve this efficiency. Most major changes must happen in your mind first. I knew this and I refused to let people tell me that what I wanted to do could not be done. And one of the ways I reprogrammed my mind was with the following chart:

Total Trumpet Player

The Total Trumpet Player

I used to refer to this as my “Total Trumpet Player” chart. Many people told me that I could not be great at all four of the things listed on the chart above: Classical Performance, Jazz Performance, Composition and Teaching. But I knew that to be great at all four of them, I would need to stop seeing them in my mind as separate fields of study.

So I made the “Total Trumpet Player” chart, using a black marker on regular construction paper. In it, I outline how each of those four areas benefits the others. Then I put this chart on my wall so I could look at it every day. It was like a form of self inflicted brainwashing, a brainwashing that I continue to inflict upon myself thirty years later, using the same chart we scanned to post it here.

And it was successful! Not only did I manage to change the way I think, I also had great success in actually living it out. As I said, most people cannot believe I have done so much with my career. But it’s because they still see all of those things as different and contrary fields of study.

Change Your Mind

If you have something you wish to accomplish that seems impossible to you, then do something to change the way you see it. For many things that seem impossible to us in life, they are only impossible because we think they are impossible. When you change your thinking, you change your life.


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Jazz Forever CD at Tiger Music

I know that a lot of my readers have been following the progress we are making with Jazz Forever. We would like to announce that Jazz Forever Volume One, our debut CD, is now available at our music store, Tiger Music.

Photo by Jeff Grass at

Photo by Jeff Grass at

If you purchase a copy of this CD, or anything else from our store, by the end of the month, you can get a 25% discount if you use the code “Houston25” at checkout. Thank you for your continued support!

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