Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Rules and Expectations

I grew up in a house full of rules and high expectations of how I should behave and what I could accomplish. Mediocracy was never acceptable so I felt that I had to be great at everything I attempted. When I wasn't, it was a huge blow to my ego and shook my confidence. I recall feeling like a disappointment to my family when in fifth grade I could not master how to play the violin. I expected to catch on really quickly and be playing it like a pro by the spring concert. Instead, I never learned to read a single musical note and my wrists hurt from holding it. My mom expected that I practice it an hour every day so I would pretend to read the music sheet while playing whatever notes happened to come from moving my fingers up and down on the strings. It was torture for me and everyone around. I don't know how my family could stand it. I would play a few notes and then tell my mom it was part of a song I was learning. It was all bullshit, but I knew she didn't know any more about the violin than I did, so I said it to make her think I was making progress. I was absolutely terrible. I even tried leaving that damn thing on the school bus but the bus driver ended the route, got in her car and returned the instrument to my house. 

In band class, I would pretend to play and let the viola player next to me make all the music. To this day I don't know if the band teacher ever noticed. But, I wish he had. Perhaps he would have offered to give me some tips, help me learn to read the sheet music, maybe offered some one-on-one help. Since he thought I knew what I was doing, I continued to pretend, to chastise myself for not being good, and began hating the class and the instrument that I had always wanted to play. Pretending that I knew what I was doing got in the way of me asking for help. I didn't want my teacher or my family to know that I was failing at playing the violin. They expected me to excel and I did not want to let them down. 

Since I was good at most things I tried, I didn't know how not to be good. I found ways to hide my ineptitude in class, at home, and on stage during the dreaded band concert. At the end of the year, I was asked if I was planning to take band again in sixth grade. I could not be more adamant about saying NO. To this day, I have not touched or attempted an instrument. Looking back, I wish I had asked for help.

I truly wanted to play the violin. I had admired that instrument and was excited about the chance to try it. My fear of disappointing my parents and teachers led me to stay quiet and grow to hate band class and the instrument. In time, I got over it and returned to enjoying the sound of a violin playing, but it still reminds me of the damage I did to myself when I allowed my insecurity to rob me of the chance to learn something that could have brought enjoyment to my life. In all honesty, I would probably never be as good as I wanted to be, but I wish I had at least allowed myself to become proficient.

In a way, I cheated myself out of the experiences that being in band and playing an instrument could bring. It feels like a missed opportunity. For years I didn't see it like that. I saw it as a failure that I didn't want to think about. But, over time it became a lesson. I learned that I will not excel at everything I try, but that shouldn't stop me from wanting to give it my all. Even if I fall short of excellence, it will have taught me something about whatever it is that I tried, and about myself.

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