I have a confession: I’m learning how to play the harp. At age 62, no less. While practicing in the window seat that overlooks the bay, self-doubt often sneaks in, and I wonder, “Good grief, will I ever be a decent harp player?”
Thank goodness for Christy-Lyn, a lovely harpist who lives in South Africa. Every week she posts a video about playing the harp. Last week, she talked about being good enough. Blam. When the video was done, I sat still for a while, pondering.
Learning new stuff
Pondering, because what she had to say applies to learning how to garden, change a diaper, make vinegar, drive an RV.
Have you ever experienced this feeling of not being good–or talented–enough?
Why is it that some people have green thumbs and seem to know a plant’s thoughts when others struggle to keep a single houseplant alive?
What’s talent, anyway?
Then you wonder, “Why is it so darn hard for me? Am I just not talented enough to be a good whatsit?”
“So, here’s the thing,” said Christy-Lyn, from her kitchen in South Africa (www.youtube.com/user/christylynmusic). “I think talent is over-emphasized. When you see someone else play, you don’t know what they’ve gone through to get to that point. Maybe it was an easy journey; maybe it comes naturally to them, but that’s not always the case.”
Same with tending a garden. Let’s say you visit a friend who has raised beds of gorgeous blue poppies, towering purple delphiniums and rows of multi-hued salad greens. You’re impressed, secretly jealous. You have no idea though, how many seedlings wilted under her care, how many times she had to re-sow carrot seeds because of forgetful watering, or how she struggled to grow enough rhubarb to make her first pie.
What we can control
“We can’t control how much talent we have,” said Christy-Lyn. “But what we can control is how we view ourselves, how hard we work, and the expectations we place on ourselves.”
So, what makes a good harpist or gardener? There are probably a million ways to answer that question. I’d say it depends on your goals and why you wanted to play the harp or dig in the dirt in the first place. It’s simple, says Christy-Lyn. “We can measure levels of skill but playing the harp is not only about being skilled, but it’s also about enjoying the music and sharing the music with other people.”
And so gardening is about being around plants, co-creating with them and learning as you go. I didn’t pop out of the womb knowing how to grow great broccoli. I started from scratch. Like learning how to play the harp. The important thing is to not allow comparisons to steal your joy. “It’s not a competition,” says Christy-Lyn. “Comparing yourself to other people cannot be very helpful.” Music that impacts people, she says, is not always from the most skilled and the most perfect harpists.
Just be you!
It’s not the most complicated music or formal English garden that makes the most impact. Rather, it’s how we express our true selves, our God-given gifts, what’s inside our hearts. Being authentic is the most important in any endeavor you undertake.
Jazz pianist Thelonious Monk is famous for saying, “There are no wrong notes; some are just more right than others.” Miles Davis felt the same way, saying, “Do not fear mistakes – there are none.” Ask any musician, everyone–and I mean everyone–makes mistakes during live performances. Everyone makes mistakes while tending a garden. A friend once told me, “Something goes wrong in the garden? Just toss it into the compost pile.”
More important than natural aptitude, skill or talent (which, by the way, is a term given to a unit of currency used by the ancient Greeks and Romans) is motivation. Christy-Lyn talked about growing up with her two sisters. They all grew up learning how to sing and play musical instruments. “But I’m the only one out of the three of us that ended up taking music as a career.”
Why the difference? “I don’t think it’s because I’m more naturally talented than my sisters,” she said. “I think the difference is because I’m more motivated.”
I’ll talk about photography for a moment. For some reason, I’m more driven to improve and share my images with other people through this blog, workshops and so on. That’s been my photo mantra for almost 40 years. Did I know how to take beautiful pictures of snowflakes when I was six months old? Of course not. It’s motivation, not just talent.
Keep on, keeping on
Don’t allow yourself to become discouraged about the difference between your garden and your neighbor’s. Or how your pictures compare with what you see on Facebook. Rather, focus on your motivation, your will, your drive, your desire to improve. Use that to move forward and keep persisting. It might feel like two steps forward and one step back sometimes, but remember, practice makes progress and over time, you will see improvement.
“Everyone feels discouraged sometimes,” says Christy-Lyn, smiling. “We all have our ups and downs, but when you’re feeling down, don’t allow the ‘not talented enough mindset’ to set in. Don’t use it as a scapegoat for your disappointment.” Simply notice your discouragement, and then choose to keep going.
It’s also important to have a good strategy when learning something new, like gardening. Maybe your soil needs improving, maybe you need to research what makes rhubarb happy. Maybe your neighbor would love to share how to grow great broccoli.
So, if you are asking yourself if you are talented to learn how to become a good harpist or grow great broccoli, then my answer is a resounding YES!
P.S. After writing this piece, I went upstairs to practice the harp. I opened the lesson book and turned the page to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
Okay then, here we go!
Thanks for stopping by.
P.S. What are your thoughts about being good enough?
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Marion Owen is a “Jill of all trades,” with 30 years of experience as a teacher and columnist. She’s on a mission to help busy people enhance their daily lives, condensing topics such as photography, cooking, and organic gardening into bite-size pieces. Get her free 4-page “In Good Light: Photo Tips for Busy People” and feel newly recharged when taking pictures.