I don’t profess to be a talented pianist. I started piano lessons when I was 6 but couldn’t handle them emotionally, so I stopped until I was 8. That time it stuck, and I took lessons for the next 10 years. I believe some people have natural talent, and I had two friends growing up whose talent I was wickedly jealous of because they could play anything magnificently. #kelly #scott They would say it’s “just” practice, but I sincerely believe some people are blessed with a talent for certain things (gifts, if you will. Just own it!)
But I do love playing the piano. It’s a stress reliever. One of my first big “save-up” purchases after my undergrad was buying a digital piano. And I treat myself to sheet music as a reward for good behavior.
But I’ve always been shy of my abilities and my perfectionist tendencies have ruined a lot of things for me. I have a tough time memorizing music and I can’t really play anything just by ear. In my senior recital for my last year of piano lessons, I was so nervous that I convinced myself that when I went up to play, I wouldn’t be able to remember how to start the memorized piece. And guess what? When I got up to the bench, I couldn’t remember how to start it (visualization works both ways, unfortunately). I was mortified. My teacher just whispered to start where I could remember, so I started about 4 measures in and then completed the piece. So embarrassing for me and for my teacher.
Other times that I have played in church or accompanied music, I will be playing just fine and I think, “Wow, I haven’t even messed up yet…which means I’ll surely mess up.” And then I do. It’s destructive thinking, and it’s something I’m trying to conquer.
So I suppose that was why one particular comment many years ago (and yes, I’m old enough to say many years) continues to echo in my mind. I had accompanied a singing group in church (not something I do a whole lot) and I had messed up a few times. After the meeting, a particularly accomplished pianist in the ward said, “You know, if people ever need an accompanist, you don’t have to do it. You can tell them to ask me.” And I knew what she meant. I knew I hadn’t played well enough and that certainly someone else could do better.
So for a while, I shied away from opportunities to play or accompany in church settings. Why should I even try if someone else could do it better?
But my eyes have been opened to a new perspective. The most beautiful thing about the gospel and about the goodness of life is that we are given opportunities to grow. We are given chances to do things where we will mess up or not do things as perfectly as others, yet that mere opportunity is what helps us progress.
Two weeks ago (after a particularly trying and stressful week personally, which was then, incidentally, followed by a difficult week professionally), I was reminded of this beautiful and awful principle.
In the same week (well, actually 4 successive days), I was asked to speak to a small group of young women for their Night of Excellence, run an FHE activity on family history, meet with the stake presidency about a proposal for helping our ward family history co-chairs, and then teach a stake institute class. These are all things outside of the normal insanity I’ve built for my life (that I love, so don’t try to get me to stop) with volunteering, temple attendance, being an awesome aunt, my actual calling duties, my full-time job, my additional part-time job, and my work with freelance clients. I add that in not as a pity party starter, but as context for what “out of the norm” means to me.
How did they all go?
Night of Excellence–I’m terrified of young women. I haven’t been in a family ward since my mission and my biggest fear of going to a family ward is getting a calling with the young women. I don’t speak to young women on a regular basis. I have a very small (if any) following of young women on my blog. My dating jokes and jokes about being single would clearly fall flat for a 12-year-old. But I wanted to try and reach to that audience. I often type up every word I’m going to say in a talk and I decided not to. I wanted to talk a little more freely. And guess what? I felt terrible about the whole thing. My friend who invited me will certainly protest and say it was fine. I know I’m harder on myself than I should be. But it doesn’t change that I felt terrible about it and felt that the young women deserved so much better. If we had just said a prayer and then eaten the Boston Creme Pie pancakes for an hour, they might have gotten more out of it.
FHE–I hardly had time (false: I always have time; I didn’t take time) to pull it together, but thankfully I have excellent consultants who made it all work. Some were not super comfortable presenting in front of others or in teaching something they feel they’ve barely come to learn. We were all nervous and it’s nerve-wracking anyway to hold an activity about family history because so many people think it’s boring (Trust me, it’s not. You want to claim blessings? I’ll show you how). I did feel comfortable about how the evening went, but I felt like I didn’t adequately prepare my consultants so they would feel comfortable.
Meeting with the stake presidency–the actual meeting was wonderful. I have the most fantastic stake presidency anyone could ever ask for in a young single adult stake. They show their confidence in me and help me feel like I am doing A-OK. But the second I left the meeting, I was in tears and overwhelmed with feelings of “You’re not doing enough; you’re doing it all wrong; if they knew how much you DON’T do, they’d be ashamed of you” and on and on…the kinds of feelings and thoughts I battle hard against. All. The. Time.
Stake institute–this was perhaps the most intimidating. We had about 150 people attend that evening. The lesson was on “Jesus went about doing good, yet was despised for it.” It was about facing persecution and ridicule with love and kindness. I don’t consider myself a natural teacher, so I spent time poring through my old seminary teaching notes (at one point, I thought I wanted to be a seminary teacher and took the classes to become one). I pored through the manual about how to teach institute effectively. And my confidence was dwarfed again by feelings that I was not qualified to teach this lesson. It was the week after the election and so much hatred had been spewed at so many people and I just wanted it to stop. I wanted the message of the Savior to come through, to treat others with kindness. Yet to also defend our beliefs. And I didn’t know how to do it. I just felt OK about how the lesson went (thankfully, I didn’t cry afterward…ok, maybe just a little because the four-day madness was over and I still had 5 hours of grading case studies to do before the next morning).
It was an overwhelm overload that week. And while some would say to me, “Liz, you just need to learn to say no sometimes” (and it may be true, so I just say “no” to dating), what all of these allowed me to do was to try something new. I desperately want to shift my perspective from “someone else could do this so much better” to “what an awesome opportunity that we all have to grow.”
I have been party to dealing out some intense criticism of others in the past, in the way they perform or how they present themselves in talks, lessons, or lectures. A healthy amount of positive critique allows us to see ways we can improve our own lives and analyze information for our own selves. We don’t get better nor do others get better just by letting things remain as they are. But neither does beating others or ourselves down do anything for us or for them.
We are all just trying. We are just here to grow and to learn. Would I ever get better at accompanying someone if never given the chance? Would I ever feel comfortable accepting a calling with young women someday if I were never asked to try learning how to reach that audience? Would I ever feel the promptings about what to do differently with family history if I were not given a chance to mess it all up at times? And what if I never were asked to teach about something hard? Would I learn to speak up for what’s right?
I don’t encourage complacence or modest effort. But when we are doing our best, wouldn’t it be nice to just feel grateful for the opportunity to try? I think it would. Clearly, some people still have natural talent for certain things and there will always be someone better at something.
But I’m going to keep trying. And I’m going to start showing more mercy toward others who are just trying. Speaking of which, I’m accompanying a musical number at work this week and in church in a few weeks. You can expect an imperfect performance. But thank you (in advance) for giving me (and others) a chance to grow.
***Note: The picture is not the actual performance where I royally screwed things up. I don’t know where that picture is. But I liked this performance better anyway, particularly because I remember nothing about it.