I took piano lessons in the first grade. I picked up the basics pretty easily, but as soon as it started to get challenging, I wanted to quit. And I did.
I played volleyball in 5th and 6th grade, and then joined the school team in junior high, but I was put on the c team and I never went to another practice.
I played the violin in elementary and junior high school. In seventh grade, the orchestra teacher forgot to assign me to a chair. I cried from being forgotten, he scoffed at me and harshly cast me to the back, in second violin. I looked up toward the first chairs and felt like a big failure. In elementary, I had been so good. I’d been the best.
Instead of working hard to get myself out of the back and be among the best again, I gave up.
I rarely took my violin home, and by high school, I’d given up altogether, with excuses aplenty like I hated the orchestra teacher, or I wanted to pursue art instead.
Having given up on the violin, I picked up the guitar and took lessons in high school. I had a really weird teacher who believed his spirit animal was the buffalo. He had little buffalo stamps all over his car. His house was full of buffalo motif. Like many weirdos I have met, he was a skilled musician, and he was very adamant that I practice every day. I didn’t, so I got a new teacher who was much more relaxed. He would be annoyed with me for not practicing, but he kept working with me. Then eventually, I quit again.
A buddy from college wanted to start a little band. He played the banjo, and I played the ukulele. I wrote our songs and sang, but I only kept up with it because of him. He nagged me to practice. He helped me learn new chords. He signed us up for an open mic night and kept us on track when we practiced the few songs we played that very quiet Sunday night at the bar. I don’t remember explicitly quitting on that. It just kind of faded out of existence, but I did quit to the extent that I never gave it my best shot.
The only skill I’ve never given up on is writing.
When I decided to invest in it by taking creative writing classes, submitting my poetry to literary magazines online, and eventually getting my Master of Fine Arts, I felt proud for finally committing myself to developing a skill.
All my past failures had a lot to do with perfectionism.
I would always pick up the basics really quick, and then get mad when I couldn’t master higher level challenges. When my buddy would riff on the banjo like it was in his DNA, I felt unbelievable silly practicing my scales.
I didn’t want to have to practice or put in effort. I just wanted to be naturally good.
I see how wrong that is now, and I wish I had been given some guidance back then. I kind of wish my parents hadn’t let me quit so many things. It would have been nice to be good at a sport or to be able to play more than a few chords on the guitar, but I can’t go back and change the past. I can only work to develop skills now.
I have chosen to put my efforts at skill development into writing and calligraphy.
Instead of beating myself up for not being a master, I have learned that it is gratifying to see progress.
I’m currently working on rewriting a novel I wrote four years ago for NaNoWrimo, and it’s so cool to see how much more knowledge I have about what makes a good novel. And when I go back and look at some of my earliest attempts at calligraphy, I feel so proud that I didn’t default to my perfectionist precedent and give up, because man, those early attempts were awful, but I continually put in the effort to practice.
Developing skills requires a growth mindset, which is the idea that we can improve our skills and intelligence through hard work. I have had to recognize that while I might have some natural inclinations or be driven toward certain things like art or music, it does not mean that I am or will be naturally good at them; that seems like a lesson I should have learned earlier on, but here I am, 26 and learning to work hard to achieve the outcomes I want. I’m glad I got here, even as a late bloomer, because the more I work to develop my skills, the more confidence I gain, and the more confidence I gain the more I feel firmly rooted to myself, my opinions, my dreams, and my passions.
What does growth mindset mean to you? Did you develop skills early on in life, or were you a quitter like me? What are some of the skills you’re developing right now?