(Guest blog by Courtney Shelton, Director of The Space to: Impact program. You can reach Courtney at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
This summer I started taking piano lessons…at the age of thirty. I have wanted to learn how to play the piano since I was a teenager. I even contemplated taking it as an elective in college, but was afraid to start for fear that I would be too far behind the other students. When I inherited a piano last spring and was confronted with my desire to learn to play each day as I walked through my living room, I finally decided to do something about it.
When I started taking lessons, I had no clue what I was getting into. I didn’t know how challenging it would be or how much it would stretch me. Suddenly I found myself identifying with the students who sit across the desk from me every day. The Impact and Launch program is about encouraging college students to start something. Our goal is to encourage them to become do-ers who have the confidence and willingness to give voice, thought, and action to their passions and ideas.
Starting something is a process, not a one-time event. Taking on the task of learning piano has given me a fresh understanding for our students and why it can be hard to maintain focus, enthusiasm and drive for their projects.
Here are some of the lessons I have learned from my own journey to help combat those problems and stay on course.
1. It’s about becoming someone who listens to what may seem like a small idea or passion – those thoughts and “what ifs” we all wonder about – instead of ignoring them and pushing them to the side.
2. It’s about starting. There are a lot of barriers to starting something and plenty of reasons not to. Let’s be honest…starting something can be scary. What if I look like an idiot? What if I fail? Sometimes I felt silly as I sat at my piano pecking away at Yankee Doodle, but I was darn proud when I finally nailed it.
3. It may not come naturally or easily once you decide to start. I would love to tell you that I sat down at my first lesson and my piano teacher praised me for being a natural. Or that within the first few weeks I breezed through all the beginner songs (like Mary Had a Little Lamb) and moved on to highly advanced classical pieces. But that would be a lie. I am not a natural, and it does not come easily for me. Sometimes at the piano, I break into a sweat because my brain works so hard to figure it out (and from the anxiety of how silly I must look.) But I think we learn the most about ourselves from the things that don’t come easy.
4. It’s tempting to quit. I’m busy. I have a lot of commitments on my time. It would be easy to make room in my schedule by quitting piano. It takes continued effort each week to show up. I don’t want to be the best nursery rhyme pianist you have ever met, so that means I have to move on to more challenging songs. I don’t want to quit just because it’s hard, even though it’s tempting to.
5. Part of getting better means having people in your life that challenge you. That means you have to get used to not always hearing praise. My piano teacher challenges me each week in my lessons, and she is honest when I can do something better. She helps me break down challenging parts of songs into smaller more manageable chunks and pushes me to practice it over and over again until I get better. It would be easy for her to let me settle, tell me how great I am all the time, let me skip hard parts of songs or lower the bar so that it is easy for me to reach. But I am (mostly) thankful that she challenges me.
6. Let people cheer you on. I need my teacher to challenge and push me, but I also need cheerleaders who tell me how freaking awesome my Mary Had a Little Lamb is. Just when the hill you are climbing starts to feel too steep to keep going, it’s a powerful motivator when you have friends who celebrate and cheer you on.
7. It takes practice. I have to play a song over and over again, often hitting wrong notes and messing up the rhythm, before it starts to take shape and sound recognizable, much less good. It takes different iterations before most things are considered awesome. That’s why Apple continues to develop and improve the iPhone.
8. It’s worth it. I may never receive applause from an auditorium full of people, but that’s not why I wanted to learn to play the piano. It’s about stretching and growing. But that process is also a heck of a lot more worth it if you have fun and enjoy it. It certainly can be stressful. I’ve mentioned the challenges a lot. But it all started with a passion for music and the joy that can be found there.
It’s not always perfect, but at the end of the day I’ve started making music.
What is stopping you from starting something? When it gets tempting to walk away, what keeps you motivated and on track?