November 6, 2015
You Just Do It
How do you get good at anything? How do you learn everything that you need to know about a particular subject? You just do it.
Back in my younger years, I went to a coffee shop one night during an open mic night. I had never been to an open mic night at a coffee shop before, and I was intrigued by the performers that were there. Some were terrible. They tried hard, but their performances weren’t impressive enough for me to want to hear anymore than I absolutely had to. There were others who were ok. The music they played was bearable, and there were moments when I thought “They’re not bad.” Finally, there were some musicians who were amazing. They played music that I wanted to hear, and I would have been perfectly content if they stayed on the stage the remainder of the evening. At that point I became intrigued, and I wondered if it was something that I could do. I realized there was literally zero barrier to get on stage, other than my inability to play the guitar and sing. I made the decision that I would get up on the stage one day.
I knew very little about music other than I wanted to perform in front of people at the coffee shop. I did know that I would need practice and lots of it. I had an old guitar that I had gotten years ago that I never learned to play well. The day after I had seen the performance at the coffee shop, I dug out my old guitar and began practicing. I didn’t know where to start so I just tried learning the songs of one of my favorite musicians at the time, Jack Johnson. His music sounded great, and it didn’t sound like there would be a lot of crazy guitar solos involved so I bought a book that showed how to play his songs. I practiced for weeks playing in my room and gaining a knew found appreciation for anyone who was good at playing the guitar. I sounded bad before I started to get better little by little. I developed callouses on my finger tips, and learned how hard it was to sing and strum at the same time. I paid people to give me lessons on how to play, and they shared their expertise with me. Over time, I felt comfortable enough to practice in front of friends, and one day, I decided that I would play in front of everybody at Jimbo’s Coffee Shop at open mic night.
As well prepared as I thought that I was, I learned a lesson as I played in front of everybody. Playing in your room is much different than playing in front of a group of people who expect to be entertained. Before it was my set, I got nervous. My heart raced, my hands got cold, and I needed to pee. I held off from going to the bathroom because I knew that if I went to the bathroom, I might just not come back. It was finally my turn, and I got on stage and played the songs that I had practiced. I made several mistakes, blushed a lot, and my voice cracked several times. Despite the poor performance, the audience was kind enough to share their applause with me. It was hard. It was uncomfortable, but I loved it. I had set out to do something, and I did. The best part was that throughout the process, I became someone who was better than I was at the start. The achieving of the goal wasn’t the most important part of the equation, the fact that I had developed a new skill that I could use or share with others was what was important.
What you become is much more important that what you accomplish. What you accomplish happens in a moment, but who you become lasts forever. I didn’t stick with music long enough to become a master at it, but I did it long enough to learn a lesson: if you want to learn how to do something, you just have to do it. Throw yourself headlong into the experience and environment that will help you to get to where you want to go. There are many stages out there, and we don’t need anybody’s permission to get out there and perform. You will adapt. You will improve. And at the end of the day, you may just love who you’ve become.