A few months ago I was sitting around in my office contemplating my impending 40th birthday. I admit to succumbing to that cliche feeling that life was on its way downhill, and I wallowed in that ridiculous notion for a little while. It wasn’t long before my optimistic nature took over, and I decided I simply needed a new framework for 40, something to help me celebrate it. Many of my friends and colleagues enthused about how life began for them when they hit that magic number, and my business coach suggested that I start planning something fun for my birthday.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been playing guitar off and on for many years. I’d taken lessons in high school and college, and I’d been dabbling in music again recently. Out of nowhere, an idea flew into my head. What if I celebrate 40 by taking guitar lessons again, and cap it off by giving a party and performing songs in my house! I loved this idea and I let it percolate and dance around.
Two days later I was sorting through some papers in a long-neglected drawer when I stumbled upon a postcard that said “Vision Music Live – In Home Guitar Instruction.” Could this be real? I just had to call the number. A man answered the phone, my future guitar teacher Winston, and we had a long conversation about my plan. I told him I wanted to learn new tunes and play them alongside him at my party. The stage was set and I started lessons the next week.
To describe the journey to the performance would be impossible, because I do not believe I can capture that much joy in words. I had many ups and downs of anxiety, happiness, doubt, and confidence. In the end I had the time of my life performing twelve songs in front of 45 of my friends and family in my living room. Their reaction oozed love and support, and the feedback I received on the music was beyond my wildest dreams.
While summarizing the feelings about my celebration proved difficult, I want to share some of my lessons learned from this amazing experience:
- When we fear something, we must trust ourselves that when the moment comes we will rise to the occasion. I had anxiety about performing music, fearing I would bungle my guitar parts and crack my voice. But when the moment came to step out on our makeshift stage, I opened my heart and got into the “performance zone,” a place where I could share my joy. I played my parts well, but most of all I had fun.
- Sometimes we have to keep working at something, believing that it will get better even when it seems like it never will. During my four months of guitar lessons, I would often come upon a difficult section of a song that I played over and over without improvement. While frustrating at first, I learned the patience to just keep practicing and await the time when the piece would click. It always did eventually, but it was never easy when I was going through it.
- Collaboration brings confidence. While I enjoyed practicing guitar and singing on my own, my happiness and self-confidence soared when my fellow musicians joined me for sessions. I’ll never forget singing with my wonderful backup vocalist, Jill, or hearing the beauty of violinist Erik enriching our songs. Playing with them boosted my skills and my enjoyment a hundred-fold.
- Don’t aim for perfection, aim for giving. I am a card carrying perfectionist, which serves me well as a business owner. When playing music, however, the goal changes. When it came time to perform my songs, I found that I just wanted to connect with my audience, to be myself, and to show my humanity. Perfection was not required.
- Do your best not to underestimate your skills and strengths. Throughout my practice sessions I became discouraged at times. My guitar teacher, however, never seemed concerned. He believed in me completely, and told me that I had more talent and dedication than I realized. After my show, I was showered with positive feedback about my singing, my fingerpicking skills, my musical ear, and my ability to juggle multiple responsibilities on stage. I had no idea about any of that. Not a clue. Now it will be up to me to internalize that confidence and appreciate myself more.
- Great reward comes from using joy, connection, and giving of yourself to bring out the best in others. By sharing something that inspires you, you may inspire countless others in ways you can’t imagine.
- Inspiration breeds new horizons on familiar territory. Through this birthday journey I discovered a strong connection between being a public speaker and performing music. My father always said I was a natural “ham” and as a speaker I perform all the time. Somehow I assumed that would not translate to music. I was wrong. Stretch your skills and let new doors open before you.
- When you struggle with something, isolate the difficulty. That was my guitar teacher’s motto. When I stumbled over a section of a song, he would ask me to take tiny pieces of that section and repeat them close to 50 times. It worked. If you look at the whole song as a problem it seems overwhelming. One small step at a time, however, brings success.
- Compassion is a critical component of any risk. I’ll admit that performing a house concert was not the easiest thing I’ve ever done. I worked hard and risked making a total fool of myself. The cure for those fears was compassion, gentleness with self wherever possible. When we are compassionate to ourselves we have a much easier time apply that compassion to others.
All in all my 40th birthday was one of the best days of my life. I feel that a whole new world, the world of music, has opened up to me. I cannot wait to play guitar with others again and feel that sense of everything coming together.
There’s no need to wait for a special occasion to grab joy and drink it up. Rock on, readers!