I was volunteering at a local high school enrichment program and I had the students all day. We were going to start with sketching and then create sculptures based on our sketches.
I had my supplies out, sketches taped to the wall and supplies at each of their spaces to begin.
As they started filtering into the room I started to notice the mumbling of some of the students. There were words coming past their lips like, “I can’t even draw a stick person”, “Mine is going to suck”, “I don’t do art” or “I am not an artist”. I was a bit surprised at first but then after listening to them for a bit, I knew what they were doing. They were protecting themselves and announcing to the whole class that they would fail just in case they later felt like they failed. They were announcing to themselves and the class that they were afraid of doing something new.
As I looked around the room, their squiggly bodies and unsure expressions I asked them to raise their hand if they had NEVER played the piano. Hands went up over most of the class. There was an old upright piano in the corner of the room that I had noticed earlier and it would serve me well over the next moments. I pointed to one of the boys that had his hand raised and he confirmed that he had never played the piano. I then asked him to come over to the old piano and play a little Cold Play for all of us. He looked at me a little perplexed but with this new position as the teacher for a day, I was surprised that he slowly got up from his seat and made his way to the piano. He reluctantly sat down at the bench and just stared at me.
“Go ahead and play something”, I said.
“I can’t. I don’t know how”, he responded.
“What do you mean? Why can’t you play something?”, I asked.
“Because I have never taken lessons”.
“Exactly”, I said as I smiled and told him he could go back to his seat.
The next moments of our class were as much of a lesson for me as they were for all of those teenagers.
Do you remember when you were little you used to run up to those that loved you in your life and proudly displayed your art? Those simple marks you made on the page but you couldn’t wait to share? Around the time we become more self-aware (7-9) you may have found yourself creating one day and casually looking over at your classmate, friend or sibling making art. It may have been the first time that you noticed that someone was better than you. You looked back at your work possibly ashamed and embarrassed. It wasn’t as good. You crumpled it up, threw it in the garbage and for many people that would be the last time they freely made art. Maybe this didn’t happen for you until you were in high school or even college. You saw someone better and assumed they just had more talent than you. Maybe they did. BUT maybe were doing something you weren’t. Practicing.
For someone to ask you to play an instrument well when you have never played, taken lessons or practiced would be ridiculous but we expect perfection, excellence and quality in ourselves every day in different areas of our lives without ever showing up and putting the time in. And often when we don’t instantly see the results we want we give up too soon. When it comes to gardening, cooking, painting, dancing, sketching, photography, running, singing, running a business and so many other examples…we think if you are not naturally gifted in these areas that we are not good in these areas and we give up. What we are missing is comparing our nonpractice with those that practice.
So what happened with all of those students in my art class? Well, once they were told it was OK not to be amazing the very first time they tried something they all let out a collective sigh of relief and practiced. They sketched, they learned and then most of them made sculptures for the very first time in their lives. They had FUN. They were even surprised in themselves and proud of what they created.
Maybe you have no interest in sketching, painting or sculpting but this is not about the area of practice but about practice. Don’t give up on a skill or yourself when you haven’t even begun to show up and practice. Don’t let fear push you away from the places in yourself that you want to discover. I won’t lie. It is hard work. It is choosing the uncomfortable over and over again. BUT with practice the uncomfortable starts to become comfortable, freeing and beautiful. Dare I say…fulfilling. Imagine that! A life that feels fulfilling because you did hard things to learn hard things. Not everything you try will be for you but just think about the areas in your life that will change with PRACTICE! Kind of exciting isn’t it?!
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