At the end of my 6th grade school year, the orchestra teacher told the class that we would be learning how to play Canon in D.
Over the summer, my parents got me private violin lessons. My tutor was a strict man and looked like Gandalf from Lord of the Rings but without the hat.
I had a healthy fear of Gandalf. If I didn’t practice much the week leading up to class, I knew I’d face a harsh look of disapproval and arduous exercises as punishment.
On the first day of lessons, he asked me if there was any particular piece I wanted to work on. I mentioned that we would be learning Canon in D the following year.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that the song was way too advanced for me. I had just nailed Hot Cross Buns a few months ago. I was like was leading a brain surgery after taking Anatomy 101.
I developed a hatred for the song and my tutor. I wanted to quit, to tell my parents to cancel lessons, tell my tutor to F off. But I didn’t have the courage.
So I practiced for an hour every day. Not because I enjoyed it or because I had grand ambitions to be a concert violinist. I did it because I was afraid of Gandalf.
Every day, I’d unzip my violin case. Loosen the bow. Scratch the rosin with the metal tip of the bow. Rub the horse hairs over the rosin. Snap the shoulder rest on. Tighten and loosen the pegs, making sure the A, D, G and E strings were in tune. Open up my foldable metal stand, pull the sheet music out of my binder and rest it on the stand. Set the metronome. Then the violin under my chin and begin.
I slowed down the song to a tempo I could keep up with, a third of the speed of the actual song. I practiced the placement of my finger for each note. I played the same bar over and over and over until I got it right.
It was grueling work. Definitely not how I had hoped to spend a summer.
After many hours and days of working through the song, something happened.
I began to piece the sections together. I increased the speed. My fingers found their way to the right notes at the right times.
At the end of the summer, I was able to play Canon in D. And play it well.
I have hardly picked up a violin since high school. Yet 20 years after that long, painful summer, I can still play Canon in D — without sheet music. The song is etched into the very fiber of my being. It’s entrenched in my muscle memory. I will enjoy the results of that hard work for the rest of my life.
Reverse Engineer Your Goal
If I had practiced the song without slowing it down or breaking it down, I wouldn’t have mastered it. The song was too advanced for me. I had to cut the song down into manageable portions. Bars. Notes.
Right now, I’m writing a book. I can’t write a book in one sitting. I could strap on a diaper, get some snacks and lock my door so no one would bother me. But I still wouldn’t finish a book this way.
Instead, I sit down at my computer five days a week and I write. I try to write 1,000 words every day. I write it post by post, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, word by word.
Every goal can be hacked into achievable bits. Start studying the lives of people who have done what you want to do. Figure out how they did it. Learn how they spend their mornings, how they overcame obstacles. Listen to interviews and read through their websites.
We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The reason I wake up in the morning and set a target word count is because that is what other writers have done. It worked for them — it will work for me, too.
Push Through The Pain
All my life I have avoided group sports. I had certain evasion tactics. During softball, I plopped myself on the ground in the outfield and played with blades of grass. In the kickball line, I’d courteously invite my athletic classmates to butt me.
I avoided sports because I don’t have a natural gift for them. When things are difficult to do, we tend to avoid them. If it’s something you want bad enough you have to be willing to work through the pain. No one promised the road to success would be pain free.
When I started playing the violin I was average for my age at best. Then I became great because I put the work in.
If we accept pain as part of the process, we can be encouraged when it hurts because that’s proof that we’re stretching beyond our capacity. On the other side of that stretch is achievement.
Prove It To Yourself
When you finally reach your goals, you get two wins for the price of one.
The first win is that you’ve attained what you worked so hard for.
The second win is that you have proved something to yourself. You have shown yourself that you have the power, the determination and the capability to do anything.
* * *
On the first day back to school, l ran up to my orchestra teacher to share the good news with him — that I had learned how to play Canon in D.
He raised his eyebrows in surprise and said, “That’s great! But we’re not going to play that song until next year.”
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