Blogversation 2012: What are you passionate about even though you’re not good at it?

Throughout this year, several bloggers will engage in a conversation here and on their blogs — asking questions of each other and responding. Others are absolutely welcome to join the conversation, as well. Learn more about the ladies of Blogversation 2012.

I did not grow up in a musical family. My parents didn’t sing or play an instrument, and didn’t worry that I should to build out my college application or be a well-rounded cultured child. It just wasn’t on their radar.

But I was fascinated by music pretty much as far back as I can remember. My mom was friends with a couple whose band played at a bowling alley in Saginaw, Mich. where my mom was a bartender. There’s a photo of me at I think 4 years old grinning like crazy when they sang me Happy Birthday. I didn’t care if it was Madison Square Garden or Timber Town bowling alley, these people made music and I was in awe.

One of my mom’s friends played piano and I watched in fascination. My first elementary school crush was a boy who played piano.

Yet I never learned to play an instrument. When we had the option to sign up for band in middle school, I thought you had to already know how to play. If I’d known the good taxpayers of Saginaw would pay for me to learn to play music, I’d have done it in an instant. Instead, I took choir. And hated it. I was a terrible singer, and a shy singer because of it, and spent the year jealously listening to the girls with the lovely soprano voices. Maybe someone could have told me it was OK I was an alto?

My college boyfriend bought me perhaps the most appropriate gift anyone’s ever given me: a small Yamaha keyboard. He wanted to encourage me to finally learn to play.

I dragged the keyboard with me through maybe a dozen moves before I finally began weekly lessons almost two years ago.

Here’s a funny video of me torturing “When the Saints Go Marching In” a year ago:

Lauren, one of the Blogversation members, wrote a post this fall, You’re Not Too Old to Switch Careers. Or Play The Harp. that hit me hard. When practice is going badly, I lament not having taken middle school band, or grouse that my parents really should have gotten me piano lessons, or anything else to make my progress farther along than it is. Lauren wrote:

We didn’t start an instrument, our careers, a language at some magical age, 10? 17? 20? and our brain went into lockdown and whatever talents we managed to eck out by sheer luck and childhood fancy, are the ones that we are destined with forever. If we haven’t learned music, mastered a language, become a writer, we never will.

Thus the people who sigh, “I wish had learned the piano when I was young. It would be such a great talent to have.”

And the others that pine, “If only they had offered Spanish in school when I was ten. I would be bilingual.”

And me who shouts, “Shut up and starting practicing!” Because piano playing and language speaking might be easier at younger ages, but they can come greatly at any age if you decide to sit down, practice, and persist.

A recent NPR story said something similar — a psychologist who learned guitar  to study musical learning wrote a book called “Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning.” NPR’s interview with Gary Marcus says:

“… although it’s definitely easier to learn some things when you’re a kid, it’s not the case that you just absolutely lose the ability later in life. There’s more of a gradual decline, but it is still possible.”

he maintains there is hope for nonmusical adults who would like to pick up an instrument — as long as they’re willing to swallow their pride and practice hard.

“A lot of people just do what they’re good at. They don’t focus on what they’re bad at,” Marcus says. “In my case, I really had to focus on the rhythm. If I had just done what I was good at, I would still sound terrible. Now I don’t quite sound terrible, and that’s because I focused so much on that. So don’t expect overnight success; try to enjoy each incremental bit of progress that you make.”

I still sometimes struggle to read sheet music, I don’t remember what notes are in which chords and my timing needs work. But I persist, because that 4-year-old me wanted it so desperately and I’m not willing to give up yet.

What’s one thing you’re really passionate about even though you’re not very good at it?


Categories: creativity, lifestyle

Tags: , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. Hey Colleen
    Its chuck, your fellow student at Sheldon’s lessons. He told me about your blog so I came to check this out. I’m also struggling and especially since I only practice 1 hour per week, this has been a slow journey.
    Keep it up! BTW That song which shall not be named
    C, G
    G, C
    C, F
    G, C

    • Thanks for stopping by, Chuck! Glad Sheldon pointed you my way … I blog about my beginner piano exploits a fair amount, so if you poke around, you’ll find more like this one.

      I committed to daily practice a year ago and I’m still on a slow journey. I feel your pain.

  2. I’ve always been totally fascinated by the work of Julie Taymor – director of theater, opera, and film. You may know one of her most famous works – The Lion King. Seriously, look this woman up on the internet. She is a living legend. I’ve always wondered – how do you put together a production, whether it’s a television show or something that involves a lot of pageantry like The Lion King. How do you pull all the pieces together and make it happen? As a child, I was always making up radio shows, plays, dances. As an adult, I’d like to figure out how to create some kind of production that I can go public with.

  3. What does it mean to be good at something? It’s an interesting question. It’s based entirely on recognition from people outside of you, of your performance stacked against everyone else’s. Being good at something is competitive, comparative. You don’t have to be passionate about something to be good at it.

    I think the question should be, What is the thing that you’re so passionate about that you’ll do no matter what? Because then it doesn’t matter if you’re the best or the worst, if you make money off of it or make no money from it. You’re doing it either way. And there’s something so pure about that.

    • Lauren, I like that you turned the question upside down. I think I “fail” at many of my “hobbies” because I judge myself. *If I ran faster or further, I’d consider myself a runner…If I could draw a person’s face and it would actually look like them I’d consider myself an artist.* I’m trying to switch my default of “I’m not ‘good’ enough” to really find joy in the things I love to do. Right now, that’s yoga and cooking.

  4. Colleen, inspiring video, thanks for sharing:).

    What are you passionate about even though you’re not good at it? Great question; let me just list a few:

    -Graphic Design
    -Learning Spanish
    -Getting Up Early

    These are all hobbies and habits that I’ve tried over and over. Like old boyfriends or strays, they keep creeping back into my life. We’ve dated but never gone steady. We’ve rendezvous weekly, sometimes daily, only to spit. In most cases, these hobbies and habits wanted to move faster and I was always to slow.

    As I grow and evolve, at 34, I realize that I can’t be good at everything. That’s okay with me. It’s nice to have passion even if you’re flirting from a far.

  5. First out of the gate I’d say you didn’t “torture” When the Saints Came Marching In, In fact if ever there was a song that begged us to “Play me anyway you can!” It’s that one!!! I wish I could play it even half as good as you do in that video!
    You know what comes to mind re what I’m really passionate about and yet not really good at?! It’s life! I’m still not good at it! I still get pissed off in traffic, can be impatient with old people especially at 8:45 am on the steps of the subway, don’t forgive people especially family quick enough, don’t have my finances in perfect order, can get pissed of at screaming children in a fancy restaurant, have on occasion been pissy at someone who showed up after someone else made me mad. I don’t meditate enough, I still have 20 more pounds on my frame than I believe is healthy, oh and did I mention that I haven’t exercised regularly in at least two years (big whoop I do yoga once in a while!) nor am I married yet even though I’d really like to be. And this above all else I still fight almost on a daily basis with reality. Even though I’m pretty clear that when you fight with reality you only lose 100% of the time. Yet I still resist! Even though all my training has taught me to learn how to “be with what is.” Sometimes I just refuse to be.

    Yet I’m passionate as all get out about life anyway! And about my lucky as hell opportunity to give this thing a whirl again EVERY SINGLE DAY. Will it be a bitch of a day or will it feel like a miracle – it almost doesn’t matter! Cause it’s this incredible gift! I’m not saying that hard days are fine – they aren’t. They suck. But they will come – and I will keep surfing all of them. Why like the surfers say because it’s there.

    Anne Lamott says it even better that I do, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”


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