There are many things in life that do not mix well: toothpaste and orange juice, metal and microwaves, religion and government, bleach and ammonia, anything with spam… I know, some of those are extreme (including the spam, because spam is disgusting). But I realized recently another combination that should be added to this list: goal setting and instant gratification. Because there’s nothing like setting a goal that you expect yourself to achieve at the drop of a hat that brings on instant disappointment.
If you want to get anything done in life, you’ve gotta set goals for yourself–and these can be small goals or big goals. Sometimes it’s picking up something at the store after work, or planning a vacation you’ve been wanting to take (then actually taking said vacation), climbing Mt. Everest, or it’s getting the laundry done before someone throws your stuff that was in the washer on the floor (rude), finishing a project before a deadline, meeting a friend for coffee, or–on those really rough days–it’s just getting out of bed.
Or, in my case, it’s that you want to be a badass ukulele player. Badass enough to play amazing music, charm local audiences, maybe get asked to play on stage and have people actually like what you play. That was one of my many goals. Albeit, one of the most unrealistic goals I’ve ever had in my life.
I am by no means musically inclined, unless you want to count the few years I was in the high school choir and, to my friends’ surprise (who frequently request me to karaoke), I can sing really well. (You know Phantom of the Opera? The main song? And that really high note Christine makes towards the end? I can hit that.) I thought that combining this ability with a musical instrument would be a fun venture for me, so several years ago, I enrolled in a ukulele class. I bought myself a little soprano ukulele and nervously went to a few classes. The instructor was kind, but didn’t seem interested. He just wasn’t passionate about teaching. In fact, after a few days of class, the instructor announced that he was going on a country-wide arts and crafts festival tour and had peaced out, never to return. Turns out, he was more passionate about beaded jewelry! Needless to say, I was a little taken aback by this sudden turn of events. So I decided to teach myself… on my own, with a Ukulele For Dummies book.
I figured that if I had taken a few lessons from an expert (who ditched a class of about 4-5 students) then follow-up with my own practice with the For Dummies book, I’d be an amazing ukulele playing success. I’d get bragging rights, telling people, “Yes, I’m pretty good for a newbie, and I’m self-taught!”
Let’s just say I had set myself up for disappointment as soon as I had set those high expectations.
I quickly got frustrated with myself when I couldn’t seem to get even one song down in the few weeks since starting on my own, or that my fingers wouldn’t move fast enough or hold down a chord correctly for it to sound right. Shortly after that, I paused on my ukulele venture and moved onto other things. I had become too disappointed and frustrated with myself to continue.
Looking back, I can point out the flaws in my mental processing during this time:
- I didn’t have enough patience with myself. How ridiculous was it for me to have this expectation on myself to just be naturally good at playing an instrument, where I’ve never played any instrument before? Answer: Pretty fucking ridiculous. Learning how to play music is like learning a new language.
- I was being unrealistic. The reality is that any new skill takes lots of time, effort and constant practice. A few weeks was not nearly enough to get to the level I wanted to be at.
- I wasn’t practicing self-compassion. I kept putting myself down when I should’ve been lifting myself up, celebrating those small victories, like tuning the ukulele correctly for the first time without a tuner, playing a string of notes correctly–even though it wasn’t the whole song. By giving myself credit for the steps I had achieved that was getting me towards my ultimate goal, I probably would’ve kept going.
Needless to say, I had learned these very important lessons that can be applied to anything in life. Remember how I talked about being kind to others in a previous post? By being kind to ourselves and practicing self-compassion, we can really advocate for ourselves and get shit done. And reader, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve actually re-enrolled in ukulele classes again! My first lesson is this Thursday and I am nervous, excited, and also proud of myself. Sure, the pause button stayed on my ukulele dream for a long time (like, 5-6 years, I think), but now I’m back at it and wiser than I was previously. On top of that, I had to register online for this class through the local community college–so this teacher can’t just freely bounce out in the middle of the program. (There’s another lesson to be learned here… and it’s called commitment. 🙂 )
I’ll give an update on my continued ukulele venture as time goes on. Reader, remember that any goals you want to achieve can be done–you’ve just got to be patient and kind to yourself. Goals are meant to stretch us, not put us down.