When I started playing the guitar I focussed on playing all the right notes at the right times, just as they were written. It took me years to figure out there is so much more to music than simply playing what is written on the page. If that was all I spent my time doing, anything I played would end up sounding robotic and there would be little connection between me, and the music, and anyone listening. Music has the potential to evoke so much emotion. It can bridge the gaps between how we feel and finding a way to express this to the world. It can help us process emotion. It can help us feel a particular way, and stir within us deep longing or incredible hope.
Think about reading a book. We can take in the words and the sentences for what they are, interesting things to read and say, but if we don’t attempt to understand the story behind them then we miss out on so much more. When I write about certain characters I am as excited to learn more about them as any reader would be – and I’m the one creating them! To keep it interesting for me to write, and for readers to want to keep reading, there has to be something a little different within the story. They can be small details, but there must be something there to entice people into the world.
I love writing music. Before I learned to play a song written by someone else I managed to write a few songs of my own. In my head it seemed easier to create something out of what I already knew and what I liked than to learn the layout and execution of a song by someone else. Now I’m over ten years into my guitar playing journey. I have experience knuckling down to learn songs written by others, and committing time to writing songs of my own, both in several different styles. Sometimes I wish I could go back to knowing less about music theory. Common chord progressions and scales have weaseled their way so thoroughly into my psyche that even when I hear something different in my head it is difficult to break free from the norm and put it on paper. Listen to what your heart is telling you as well as what your ears are hearing. A beautiful melody can come from anywhere, and it need not sound like something you’ve already heard.
When we find ourselves in a new job it can feel daunting to try and fill the shoes of the person who came before us. In many jobs we can find ourselves simply doing the job the same way as the people before us, and just getting the work done. For me, this can only be fulfilling for so long. I like that I can go to work, do work, and then leave for the day, still with the mental capacity to create the worlds within stories and songs. But if there is a better way to do something at work, a way to streamline tasks so they can be done more efficiently, I will work to make it happen. My current managers are conscious that I am competent in my role. They are also conscious of providing opportunities to extend myself, if that is something I seek to do. Training to improve my skills in my job is always on offer, and they offer different tasks if I have the time to take them up. If I had settled into the job as it was when I arrived, and simply ‘played the right notes’ that were in front of me, I would be missing out on a lot of development in my job which transfer so readily to other areas of life.
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, do the best job you can. A job can be a means to pay for the necessities so we can do what we want to do outside of work. But if it is draining the energy from our soul we must put plans in place to change our trajectory. I love writing and playing music but right now it is not feasible for me to drop everything and pursue those avenues as a sole source of income. I am putting in hard work to make that a viable choice, but for me, dropping everything and trying to be a paid writer and musician is at least a few years away yet…
This process will look different for everybody. Continuing the analogy about music, there are many wonderful musicians in this world. If we try and play like someone else we miss out on figuring out who we really are and what kind of music we want to play. Try new things. Make mistakes. Flip, even try things that no one else has tried before – especially try things no one else has tried before! Stepping out into the great big unknown is daunting. But out there lies yet to be discovered greatness and you might just be the person to discover it.
Play the right notes for you. But don’t let the fear of failure stop you from playing a few of the wrong notes too. One quote oft attributed to one very famous American writer comes to mind.
“The first draft of anything is shit.”Ernest Hemingway
Refinement will be required, even and especially if we believe something holds the potential for greatness within it. A song, story, script, performance, recipe, friendship, a Christmas dinner. Whatever it is there will be room for alteration and improvement.
Get there. Get to where you are confident to share your wonderful skills with the world. If you have fire in your belly for what you are creating there will be people out there just as excited to hear what you have to say. And when someone raises an eyebrow at a ‘wrong note’, you’ve done something right. They’ve turned and they noticed what you’ve created. Peace.