My six year old daughter is experiencing a bit of the frustration that comes with learning a musical instrument.
When she first began piano lessons, she had big dreams of being able to play some of her favorite songs quite quickly. She’s almost constantly singing songs and humming them around our house and she’s watched and listened to quite a few accomplished pianists in her life. She believed that with just a few lessons, she’d be on that level, too.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t really worked out that way for her yet.
She practices diligently, but she’s expressing a lot of frustration that she can’t just sit down and play the songs she loves. Instead, she’s learning how to play very basic songs like Mary Had a Little Lamb and Frere Jacques.
She wants the pleasure of the great performance without the hard work it takes to get there.
I think, on some level, we all think that way. I know that I used to believe that taking 100 basketball shots would drastically improve me as a player. I’d go to the gym a few times, take 100 shots, and then go to an intramural college game expecting to play a lot better, only to find out that my improvement was incredibly small (at best).
One of the most painful parts of our financial recovery was realizing that selling off a bunch of stuff once and practicing a few money free weekends wasn’t going to be enough to bring about the changes we wanted.
Sure, in each of those cases, a little bit of hard work brought about a little bit of improvement, but it takes a lot of repeated hard work to bring about real change in your life.
You can scrimp and save all month long, only to find yourself with just an extra $100 that becomes a start to an emergency fund or an extra payment on a debt.
You pour a ton of extra time into a project over the course of two weeks, only to get a smile and a slap on the back from the boss. No raise, no recognition, nothing.
You feel like your hard work should amount to more than that, and you get frustrated.
When I feel like that – and I sometimes do – I go back to what I told my daughter.
Enjoy the practice itself. Don’t think about what it might lead to, because the distance will frustrate you. Don’t worry about playing Maple Leaf Rag – just focus on nailing the best performance you can of Mary Had a Little Lamb and be very proud of that. What you’ll find is that if you focus on hitting a home run with that easy task – and you really seek out ways of enjoying that process – it will build on itself over time. You’ll move on to something a bit more challenging – and you’ll find that you’re ready to do it. You’ll move from just learning Mary Had a Little Lamb to making it sound great to finding it much easier to learn, say, When the Saints Go Marching In.
It’s all about the individual steps, and if you find joy in each of those steps and stop worrying about reaching the big goal far off in the distance, the journey will be a lot of fun, and then one day you’ll find yourself at your destination anyway.
Every big journey in life takes a lot of hard work, but it gets a lot easier if you focus on the little steps and find joy in succeeding at those little steps. Over the long run, you’ll get to where you want to go and the journey there will be a blast.