I went back to practicing piano as an adult in part to save time. My piano teacher would come to my house if we had multiple lessons. That saved me from driving into downtown Austin, Texas, during rush hour. So I signed up for adult piano lessons with my sons. I wanted to learn music theory so that I could transpose my favorite sing-along songs into keys I could sing in, or play at a party.
I found the puzzles of music fascinating. I took a little time each day, even adding in a challenging piece by Mozart. Could I learn the pieces? Little by little I began to make progress. Sometimes, though, I would get too far ahead of myself. Hearing my piano teacher play a piece, I was tempted to despair. How can I play like that? And so the excuses for not practicing began to creep in again.
I am a single mother of two teen boys. I am also an international expert in innovation, and I have worked with and consulted for companies such as USA TODAY, Harvard Business School, and the Episcopal Church of Sudan. The senior executives I work with face tremendous pressure from customers, competitors, partners, and beneficiaries. Some face the fact that if they do not get medicines to villagers, those villagers die.
Yet my company’s message is consistent: despite the steady stream of real time pressures and crises, we must renew and refresh ourselves if we are going to be in our jobs for the long haul. It’s a paradox that by taking time away from work, we can come back to tough problems with better, fresher solutions. (This is why we often have great ideas in the shower.)
But even knowing that we must refresh our imaginations through doing different things, like playing piano, I still don’t practice as much as I would enjoy practicing. How can I have integrity in asking busy people to take time out if I cannot do it myself?
One of the most common reasons we do not practice piano is that we can’t find the time. Not surprisingly, the lack of time is why artists and writers don’t engage in their craft. It’s also one of the most cited reasons employees don’t engage in innovation: I can’t find the time. We may not be starved for food or shelter, but we are constantly starved for time. As a result we are at risk of artistic anorexia: a malnutrition of our art and our spirits.
How do artists make the time? We are a creative lot. Some of us get up early, some stay up late. My brother, a military historian, practicing lawyer, and active father of three teens, was recently asked at a book signing, “When do you find time to write?” I was shocked when he said, “I donate blood. When I am giving blood, up to a few hours later, no one will bother me and I can edit my work.” My beloved brother was literally shedding blood so he could engage in art. It’s creative, but not healthy.
If engaging in our art is this tough, we need to be clear on why we are doing it. In tomorrow’s article, I’ll discuss the need for clear goals. This is the answer to “why bother?” I’ll address my own perfectionism, a form of shame that provides me with plenty of excuses for not practicing. Finally, I will conclude with how, by practicing the piano, I am actually practicing healthy living.