In my mid-20s, I felt like a failure when I returned to Irvine, California, to live with my parents in my childhood home. I didn’t know what to do with my life. I didn’t think I possessed a burning passion that would lift me from my melancholic slump and imbue me with a vision propelling me to act. I finally caved in and read some self-help books: “Do what you love!” they begged. “Follow your dream!” “Make goals!” These books spoke with such urgency and fire that I couldn’t help but consider their advice.
Piano had called to me while I was teaching English in Spain the year before I moved back home. At first I decided to pursue other passions, taking French and singing classes, but piano nudged its way to the top of my priority list. I may have paid attention to the call before, by looking up piano teachers and keyboard prices, but there was always a big juicy excuse standing in my way. Either I couldn’t afford a piano teacher or I didn’t have a piano or I didn’t have the time.
At my parents’ house, I had a piano again, the one I grew up playing. With my new hostess position at a restaurant, I had the time and flexibility and was able to afford lessons every other week, so I decided to enroll in a piano class at my local community college.
The biggest struggle at first was being patient with my piano music sounding like it had when I was a child, or worse. The community college course helped with this feeling of inadequacy because other people my age were coming back to the piano or picking up a second or third instrument. We were in this together. I was part of a community of adult learners who would help each other when we felt confused or stuck. The course also gave me a chance to play in front of the class, my first audience: I surprised myself by confidently performing an arranged version of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.”
“You’re a natural!” Mr. Mamey, my piano teacher, exclaimed. He told me I was his best student and had excelled faster than most of his previous students. Hearing this made me glow. I was talented, I thought to myself. I had never really felt talented before, but this time I felt like I had something to contribute.
My mom was very supportive during this time—she would encourage me to perform or practice a song again when it didn’t sound right. She told me that it seemed like I felt at home at the piano. These words delighted me but they simultaneously broke my heart because I knew I couldn’t become a concert pianist at my age. I felt like I had wasted my talent and time, and regret consumed me.
In the meantime, I decided to apply to graduate school in an attempt to find a respectable career, direction, and purpose. I started graduate school at NYU in the fall of 2013 and it wasn’t long until I experienced first-hand the difference between a passion and an interest. I continued to take piano lessons in New York City, but quite naturally my interest (work and school) took up most of my time and my passion (piano) suffered.
The piano didn’t like to be merely nudged to the side—she had to be at the top of the list, and she would soon make her way to there. I switched piano teachers, because I wanted to improve my technique and I felt that my old teacher wasn’t going to take me musically where I wanted to go. My new teacher has developed her own piano technique and incorporates mindfulness into her practice. Now I use NYU’s piano rooms and my roommate’s upright to practice for 30 minutes to an hour every day. I am on a journey to claim my passion and allow the piano to be at the center of my life.