Stop trying so damn hard and stop showing up with your 100%.
Let me explain.
A few weeks ago, I sat down at a piano and tried to play a little something for the first time in 15 years. Now, a little something about me that not many people know—I was actually really good at music once upon a time.
I started playing the piano when I was barely out of toddler-hood, moved onto the violin and was solo-ing and leading the strings section of the orchestra by the time I was 12. I’ve won fiddle competitions. Yes, this Korean kid kicked some serious ass at bluegrass. I don’t say this because I want to impress you. I’m not looking for a gold star here, but I say this because I want you to know how high that internal bar is set for me when it comes to music.
I quit music when I was 15 and never looked back until a few weeks ago when I sat down at the bench with my friend Casey, and it was like returning to a favorite campground.
He kindly gave me a refresher on the basics of sheet music; reminisced about the “Circle of Fifths” with me. Sang along to some Beatles songs. And lo and behold, it turns out I hadn’t actually forgotten the language, I just squirreled it away somewhere in my gray matter. The familiar spaces between the notes; that particular weight that is only held in the gravitational force around a set of piano keys; the clear cold of the pedals. That deep sense of belonging that I’ve only experienced when I play music with another human.
And then the following night, I hung out with Casey and our friend Greg and the three of us took turns doodling on a guitar and a ukulele. Just passing the instruments back and forth. I found myself apologizing because I don’t actually know how to play a guitar. They didn’t care. They showed me a few chords so I could strum along.
Greg is someone who stumbled upon music late in life. But he never once apologized for his lack of experience. He showed up with his imperfections. Casey is better on the piano, but he just strummed away, no self-criticism was uttered about himself or his abilities.
I was struck with how they both were so willing to show up. No apologies; just showing up and being seen. They were playing music for the sheer unadulterated joy of it. They were practicing. And practicing was joyful. It brought back memories of all the hours I spent practicing hidden away in my room before I would dare to perform even in front of my mother (even though she could hear me in the next room while I practiced).
Practice felt heavy to me. There was always a finish line; practice had a purpose. The piece had to be perfect before I would share it with the world. This concept of practicing music with no attachment to the end product was a completely foreign concept.
I think as humans, we are conditioned to strive for perfection because to show up with anything less is to show up in our vulnerability. I am so annoyed that people ask me if I am sick or tired when I show up in public without makeup. I hate that I have to justify that I feel bloated right before my period. I am not blameless. Girlfriends, I am sorry if I have ever complimented you on how pretty you are before I tell you how smart, vulnerable, strong, courageous, and wonderful you are.
I watch certain people in my life show up with whatever percentage of perfection they’ve got in the moment. They’ve mastered the art of “faking it ’til they make it”. And sure, they stumble, but that just means they’re actually trying at something that is unfamiliar to them.
Of course they stumble. We all do. It’s just that I’ve been conditioned to stumble in the privacy of my own room.
So dear ones, let’s take it down a notch; let’s fake it ‘til we make it. Let’s stop apologizing for the space we take up in our own lives. Just show up.
Just sing, even if it is out of harmony. Let’s stumble over the piano keys. Practice for the sake of practice. Practice for the sheer joy of it. Try your best with no attachment to the end product. Even if all you’ve got is 10% of perfection; no, even if all we’ve got is 1% of perfection!
If we spend our lives practicing for perfection, we may never be seen. From this experience, I learned that my years standing in front of a sold out crowd as a concert violinist were not the acts of bravery. And maybe the reason why I denied myself the experience of creating music for so long is because I was afraid of being anything less than perfect.
I learned that simply showing up and being seen, imperfections and all is the true act of bravery.
Author: Kathleen Lee
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Rachel Streeb/Pixoto