Hand in hand with failure comes the feeling that we are actually going backwards. Progress can seem a long way off especially when we seem to be stagnating at something we really want to get better at, even with a heap of well coordinated practice. Time. We cannot control it. We can only spend that which we are gifted as best as we are able.
In my teens, like many of us, I began comparing myself with those around me more and more. It is an easy thing to do. At times it can even provide motivation for us to aspire to a greater level of capability. Other times it seems like a pedestal which we’ll never be able to reach. Mark Tremonti is one of my favourite musicians. He is an extremely talented guitarist, vocalist, and from what I’ve heard and read seems like an all round good dude. Many hours of practice have gone into his mastering the skills he has put his mind to. Yet, he always believes there is more to learn so puts in practice every day he is able. In the past I would have looked at his playing and been disheartened. Even some of the ‘simple’ songs he plays have techniques I really have to concentrate on to pull off. Recently I have been able to change my perspective and see musicians and the skills they possess as inspiration for where I can get to with hard work. Sometimes I feel I’m getting close to mastering a new skill. Sometimes I feel what I’m learning is helpful in one area but detrimental to other facets of my guitar playing. Finding a balance is hard but a necessary part of progress.
Another talented musician I follow is a guy named Rai Thistlethwayte. He is the lead vocalist of the Australian band Thirsty Merc, and plays guitar and keyboard exceptionally well for them too. Outside of this musical venture he has several solo releases and is always sharing jazz and blues jamming through his YouTube channel. It is obvious the amount of work he puts into improving his craft. He is consistently innovating the way he plays music and sings. I am blown away by the things he can play on a piano. If you’re looking for a great example of an acapella introduction to a rock tune try Thirsty Merc’s song, “My Completeness”. The first time I realised what was going on my jaw almost dropped through the floor. What each of the band members was singing in isolation was simple enough but together they guide beautifully to where the rest of the instruments kick in. How much practice this would have taken is beyond me. A good example of teamwork leading to sound technical execution. As a listener we don’t see the thousands of hours of practice that went into making this final product.
Some things we will have a greater aptitude for straight out of the gate. Other things will require a concerted effort to improve from the ground up. What is necessary is clear, concise, communication with others, and with ourself.
When we work with others it is almost a certainty things will not click straight away. There will be great progress forward, more readily obvious working with some people than others. Other times we will reel in an empty fishing line after throwing out something others didn’t quite get – yet. It’s all part of the process. Seeing the finished product of hard work can be disheartening. Especially if we don’t consistently remind ourselves of the steps in between that it will take for us to get there. Fall down X times, get up X+1.
When I started playing ultimate frisbee I didn’t know the most useful places to run, nor how to effectively mark the player I was defending, nor how to throw the disc. It was almost by sheer luck a throw made it from where I was to where a team-mate was accurately, if at all! I practiced individually the different aspects I needed to. If there were things I didn’t know I asked experienced players. And if there is one environment which can make you feel like you’re making no progress or going backwards when it comes to throwing a disc, it’s Wellington. There’s nothing like a strong wind to make you question all the work you’ve been putting into perfecting your throwing technique.
However, if you can slightly alter your perspective it’s also one of the best ways to test your technique. Push past the disappointment of a throw not working out how you wanted it to. Think critically about the reasons it might have failed and use the step backward as a base to propel yourself forward.
This has come up as a common theme over the past few months for me. Our world right now is a harrowing place to be almost everywhere, sometimes including our home. In New Zealand we’ve had what might be the beginnings of wave two of Covid-19. We’ve done well as a nation but our fight is not done. Until the world as a whole, everywhere, has a better handle on how the virus is transmitted there will be backwards movement. Tentatively stepping forward, being smart as individuals and groups of people, and choosing kindness whenever we can is the way we will win.
How have you been managing your progress forward? How have you been managing when pushed backwards?
Keep on keeping on my good friends. Until next time. Peace.