My lovely wife surprised me at Christmas with a guitar. My first guitar. A very nice Martin acoustic guitar – at that! She has heard me say over the years that “one of these days I’d love to learn to play the guitar,” so she decided there was no time like the present. My Dad played an acoustic guitar when I was growing up (and Mom played piano), and I’ve always been a singer, but I just never took the time to learn to play. And now I realize why.
It takes time, focus, patience, diligence – basically a lot of self-discipline. Hmmmm, where has the issue of self-discipline come up lately? But I really, really want to play guitar. No, that’s not quite the truth. The truth is, I want to be great with the guitar. It’s not that I have visions of being a famous performer with a huge following. (OK, maybe just a little – but it’s about as serious a dream as Fletch playing power forward for the Lakers!) I want to be great at the guitar, because music means so much to me, and I believe this will open up a whole avenue of experiencing and expressing my self. But what I really want to share with you are some of the life lessons I am learning from guitar lessons:
1. You don’t master anything overnight, no matter how much it matters to you. (I would argue that anything you actually can master overnight is not likely to make much of a meaningful impact on your life.) It takes time, focus, and determination to master anything worthwhile in life. Shortcuts and quick fixes do not lead to mastery. Only persistent, diligent, self-discipline leads to mastery.
2. If you really want to be good at something, you have to be willing to work on the stuff that isn’t fun and doesn’t come easy. If you are willing to toil your way through the parts that just aren’t fun and don’t come naturally, eventually you may just find yourself in the promised land where those things have become second-nature and allow you to enjoy life in ways you never could have imagined before doing all that hard work.
3. If you want to make big forward progress, you have to move at a pace you can actually sustain. Sometimes in our zeal to get where we want to be with a new life endeavor, we can push and rush ourselves so hard that we slide into the swamp of frustration and burnout, rather than steadily walking down the path to the promised land.
4. Sometimes you need to take a break and play, if you are going to have any hope of staying the course for the long haul. Just don’t forget that the playtime is a break, and that more work remains to be done. When practicing a Beatles song with rapid transitions from G to F to C have me wanting to make kindling out of my innocent six-string, it may be a good idea to blow off the Fab Four for a few minutes and play the really fun and easy chords of “Free Fallin” by Tom Petty, which requires very little thought or skill and has the benefit of leading me down the nostalgic path back to 10th grade. Ah, that was fun – now I’m ready to tackle George Harrison!
5. Humility goes a long way toward making real progress at any worthwhile pursuit in life. I can’t tell you how much I would love to quit going for my weekly guitar lessons until I have mastered everything my teacher has shown me so far. Then I could come back and really impress him! But I seriously doubt I would stick with it at this point, if I didn’t have that weekly lesson to keep me on track. And even if I did, I will progress much more quickly and learn much more, if I stick with a good teacher/mentor – which requires the humility to keep coming in week after week and demonstrate how at this point I’m not even worthy to change the guitar strings for a Hendrix or a Clapton or a Van Halen or a Vaughn. But I hope and believe that if I am willing to keep admitting each day who and where I really am, and who and where I really am not, I will grow a little better each day.
Many thanks to Ben “Obi-Wan” Hurley, my terrific guitar teacher at Zeagler Music. I am grateful for the many things I am learning from you, including guitar.