Be Where You Are

I’m learning a new song on the piano – it’s one of the hardest and most beautiful songs I’ve ever tried to play, and I have dreamed of playing it ever since I first heard it. I’ve had the sheet music for it since then, but its complexity and majesty have made it difficult for me to pick through and learn.

My brother is getting married in a week, and I have the most incredible vocalist  a pianist could dream of, so I decided it was time to tackle it. I even went so far as to add to it, bringing my favorite sax player in on it to make it even more powerful. It’s a big mountain to climb. It’s been frustrating.

I’ve pushed through with practicing, and can make it through the whole song in super-slow-motion, with a few stops and starts along the way. I feel victorious when I start at the beginning and end at the end, even if the middle is a mess. But I’ve noticed something.

Every time I stop playing I say (either out loud or in my head)

“That was awful!”
“I’m never gonna get it!”
“I’m so bad at this!”

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I’ve had mixed experiences with yoga throughout my life, but have particular difficulty with it now because of chronic muscle spasticity problems. There are significant limits to what I can do in a yoga practice, and I’m usually pretty self-conscious in a yoga class because I can’t ever keep up.

But I’m working at a yoga studio now, and have supportive awesome people around me, so I’m giving it a shot. I started Monday, and spent half the time in child’s pose because I couldn’t do what the class was doing. The other half of the class I was able to do at least an approximation of the poses, and the instructor gave me lots of modifications and encouragement, so I didn’t feel as self-conscious as I have in the past.

When I made it from the beginning of class to the end, I felt victorious, even though the middle was a mess. But I noticed something.

In my head, I was thinking

“That was awful!”
“I’m never gonna get it!”
“I’m so bad at this!”

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This week I’ve been thinking about what it means to be where I am. I realize that the only way I won’t be terrible at something is if I give myself permission to be terrible at it for a while. I have to let myself be a beginner.

But, if I am terrible at them for a while, and my inner voice is trying to convince me that being terrible is a bad thing, then why on earth would I want to keep doing these things? Both activities are difficult, so if it’s not an enjoyable experience, where does the motivation to do the hard work come from? I might as well have my childhood piano teacher with the mean pointy fingernails standing over my shoulder scolding me (at the piano OR at yoga – equally terrifying).

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So now I’m practicing challenging that voice. Every time the thought enters my head to say something negative, I’m going to yell an opposite response as loud as I can (in my brain, not out loud).

“I’m getting it!”
“One step at a time!”
“This is great!”
“I can tell I’ve improved!”
“Just make it to the end!”
“I am doing just fine!”

With that said, I’m also going to allow myself to feel frustrated. It’s hard. I get aggravated. Those feelings are valid too, and I don’t want to squash them with false positivity. So when it’s hard, I’m going to say that in a way that doesn’t de-value my work and my effort.

“I’m so frustrated!”
“Whyyyyyyyyy does it have to be so haaaaaaaard!”
“GRRRRRRR!”
“I hate this arrangement/pose!!! I’m just gonna improvise!!”
“Hand me that gallon of ice cream please!!”

So that’s what I wanted to share with you today. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you’re doing fine. Allow yourself space to be terrible in order to get better. Celebrate your progress, don’t question it. Challenge the voice that tries to undermine your effort.

Be where you are.