Feeling Like an Old Dog

I love knowing things, but learning new skills is so gross. I’m currently in the process of learning to play piano chords. I wanted to be able to accompany myself at home, whether I was rehearsing a song for church or just messing around with old or new favorite songs, but I was limited by a lack of skill (i.e. only being able to play root chords with improper fingering). I was hesitant to commit to learning more because I was pretty sure it would feel exactly like this. When you’re learning something there’s usually that stage when you’re terrible at it and feel like you’ll never master it. I had a wonderful childhood with encouraging parents and teachers, so I know all the facts about persevering at learning something: you have to keep trying and doing your best, hard things are worth doing, practice makes perfect, someday it won’t be so hard because you kept going, etc. etc. All those things are true, and I am slowly (very slowly) gaining some skills.

But still, I hate the feeling. I knew part of this would be an exercise in humility– I had tried to learn chords on my own before and didn’t get very far, so I recruited a willing, patient “teacher” who is a dear friend of mine. It’s not pleasant for me to play my slow, halting notes for her but she is very kind, noticing the small improvements I make and putting me at ease. What a relief.

The worst part is actually practicing on my own because I am not nearly as gentle with myself! In my mind I can hear the things I want to play, and when what I’m actually playing is so far from that I get frustrated and start to beat myself up. While I knew there would be some humility involved in presenting my limited skills to a teacher, I didn’t anticipate the feeling of presenting my limited skills to myself.

This internal response to my currently-limited skill set seems to be linked to the opposite of humility: pride. My pride wants me to stop doing anything that makes me look less knowledgable or experienced or capable, but humility reveals that I need to grow and be taught, and that sometimes it’s okay to show a part of myself that needs work. Pride presents itself as safe and protective, but is really the enemy of my growth as a person. It’s my hope that as I work at the new skill of piano I can also work at the skill of being kinder to myself.

So as I practice my chords I’m also going to practice saying, “Shhhh” to that voice of pride. I will practice telling myself to accept where I’m at so I can get to the good place. And maybe someday, as I sit at my keyboard playing smooth, comfortable, pretty chords (like 20 years from now?) I’ll think, “Hey, maybe I should learn to [knit, french braid, weave baskets, build furniture out of pallets] now!”

Anything is possible.

How about you- do you like to learn new things? How do you deal with the “not-knowing” feeling?

2 thoughts on “Feeling Like an Old Dog

  1. I like your wording: ‘learning new skills is so gross’! I tend to agree. I remember in my last year of university, during a masterclass, a voice prof saying that if you’re going to be a singer you really need to love the PROCESS, not simply the end result. I kind of wished, at the time, that someone had told me that years before!! In some cases I enjoy the process (and yes, I could say now that singing is one of them)…but I’m really a ‘let’s get ‘er finished
    kind of lady! Good on ya for tackling something new!


    • Oh, thanks- it is tough! I tend to stay away from tasks that are too difficult, but there are a few things (esp. music) that I feel are worth suffering through the process. Your prof gave some wise advice!
      We’ll see how far I get with piano. My prediction is “not very” because I don’t have anything riding on it, but I want to make sure I stretch myself before throwing in the towel. I think I need to stay in “lessons” a little longer before I stop and see how I fare on my own.
      Thanks for reading & commenting, Anette!


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