Photo source: http://www.sacramentotreecare.com
I read a great proverb: “When’s the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago.”
When people hear I am a piano teacher or player, they often say, “Oh, I wish I had kept up my lessons.” I always tell them something which is true, but which they don’t believe. “If you start now and practice for fifteen minutes every day, in twenty years you’ll be better than me.”
The “twenty years” part tends to throw them off, although it shouldn’t. If you could be a great piano player from the time you were seventy to the time you were ninety, wouldn’t that be worth it? If I am showing a little less empathy than usual, it’s probably because I take it for granted that I am able to plan twenty years ahead.
In a sense, I owe the person I am now to the person that I was at twenty-five. I had to go through an enormous amount of patient and anxiety-ridden learning to be able to enjoy the uncommon skills I now enjoy. I sacrificed some of my carefree fun time and career-building time to do it.
Today I want to enjoy the person I am now. And yet I have to pause. Because who do I want to be in twenty years?
I’d love to just enjoy the current spoils of my hard work. Yet if I neglect to prepare for becoming my future self, I will be betting on the fact that my life won’t change, which is a foolish bet. Anyway, focusing on tomorrow can sometimes make today more bearable.
For example, I think we see music lessons too often as a referendum on who we are. We’re “haven’t practiced enough” this week. We “aren’t good enough” today.
Really, what I want to do when I’m practicing is think about who I want to be, what I want to be able to do. What do I have to do now to get what I want? What kinds of skills should I be cultivating?
Often my students, adults as well, have no idea what kind of musicians they want to be. The best thing I can offer them is advice based on my experience. “If you want to be a jazz musician, you’ll need this…if you want to do rock shows, you’ll need this…if you want to accompany for broadway, you’ll need this.”
Once I know what they’re looking for, I can start providing them the kinds of things they should do now, so that when they’re in the situations they hope to reach, they’ll be ready. When they seem to lack motivation, sometimes the answer is that we are moving down a path that does not lead to what they actually want. Clarifying what they actually want and making clear the point of what they are doing every day can make the current sacrifices meaningful.
This kind of thinking is what gets novelists to write the first draft. And the second. Didn’t you tell me you always wanted to write a novel?
When’s the second best time to plant a tree? Today. Could you please share with me what you’re doing for your future self?