When I was younger, I LOVED basketball. I had a growth spurt as a 6th grader and had a few sub-par years in my own ‘tall’ world. This was of course in the church basketball league, where everyone played the sport. But, it was about this time that I first thought I might not just enjoy basketball but really be good at it. For the next few years I worked at the game. I eventually chose basketball over soccer and continued that sport. And then in 8th grade, something happened. I realized that most of my classmates now had grown as tall if not taller than me. I was about 5’11 so I was average height but nothing significant. I still loved basketball and had set my heart on the sport. And, I was average. I was on the private school team and practiced daily on the drills that my coaches gave me. I even read books on basketball plays and had some stupid glasses that were supposed to keep me from looking at the ball when I practiced dribbling. But, I always set my goals really high and very regularly got discouraged when I was falling short.
Well, about the same year, my mom had seen a progression of increased seriousness toward basketball. Although she encouraged me to enjoy the sport and keep trying other things I was limited in my perspective and focused heavily on basketball. She knew, as I did not, that there were tons of things that I could try and possibly excel at and that limiting my view to only basketball was beginning to become quite possibly too much of an obsession.
I had recently picked up the guitar on my own and had seen a little bit of success in learning some chords. She offered to pay for a month of private guitar lessons if I was interested in the idea. And, I was not a spoiled kid so anytime my mother gave me some news like that I thought it was a great idea. I wasn’t “any good” considering I’d only played on my own for a few months and learned a little from friends of mine who played. I of course continued to play basketball while learning and getting better at the guitar. For the next few years, I played basketball on the private school team and by most people’s viewpoint I was decent. I put in the work and was doing better because of it. It still wasn’t enough for me considering I wanted to not only make the team but be a star.
Fast forward to my sophomore year in highschool. By now I had continued to pursue basketball and was exposed to a variety of players who were on a different level than me. I was constantly beating myself up about the sport and working harder and harder. On the backside, my guitar ability had continued to improve and I was now teaching 3 or 4 students of my own. So, I was making enough in order to continue taking lessons myself. And I didn’t do anything halfway, so I was pretty focused at learning that skill also.
At this point, I was playing basketball with guys who were really good and it seemed fairly effortless for them. After constant personal frustration I had a fairly big breakdown in the kitchen as I shared my discouragement with my mom. She gently encouraged me to not focus on being a professional basketball player and to enjoy basketball for what it was, a fun hobby. Although she was right, it was devastating to me at the time.
After a few weeks of processing I slowly took a mental shift from basketball. I’m not one to have a break from pushing myself and decided guitar might be an opportunity that I could pursue. If I really wanted basketball I could (and did) continue to work hard and might possibly make a college basketball team. But the truth is, I didn’t have the disposition for a basketball star. And I wasn’t going to keep beating myself up about it.
I tell this story to explain what one of my grad school professors openly admitted, “We cannot be whatever we want to be in life.” And although, the Bible says with God all things are possible, that passage is referring to God’s ability to convert a wayward soul. Instead, “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men” Col. 3:23. The truth is, we can’t all be the best but we all can always give our best. And, sometimes we might find our abilities are better suited for a different area.
Bringing It Home
In my experience, almost anybody can learn to be functional at a given skill with dedication and desire. We can compete and I think we should. That’s how you grow and learn to know where your passions and your skills meet is by trying. And, often failing gives you more knowledge about yourself than succeeding.
So, what if you’re bad at music? I would suggest you give it your best. Set some goals but be sure to get feedback along the way from people that want what’s best for you. You need to make small steps from learning, to jammin’ with friends, to trying out playing in front of small groups of people. You will repeat this process for a while (possibly years) before you have something worth sharing that is unique to you. But, art typically comes after you’ve learned a skill. This allows you to not just do a “task” but do it in a way that stands out. This is a universal truth not just applying to music.
About this Series
Every Tuesday at 8 am for the forseeable future I’m posting on tips from my experience in the “new” music industry. The next posts will answer the questions: “sharing your music: how to get good feedback?” and “sharing your music: where do I share it?”.