I teach piano lessons from time to time. I used to say I was a piano teacher, but the three half-hour lessons I teach on a weekly basis hardly seems to merit the title anymore. My numbers of students has been decreasing lately. I had a steady stream of “we can’t make it today,” and “can we take a few months off?” and “I’m moving to another state,” until the stream was no longer steady because there was no one left to cancel. When I am feeling gracious with myself I attribute this dwindling to the busyness of life and the smallness of our town. When I am tired and hungry and life feels unexplainably heavy, I decide that I am an awful teacher and am unable to make music fun and interesting for my students.
But on my best days, the ones where I’ve had a good night’s sleep and have plenty of vitamin D, the days that I am able to see reality with an untainted perspective, I realize the reason that so few people stick with piano lessons.
It’s because piano is hard and people don’t like to do hard things.
And before you start telling me all the other reasons you too had to quit taking lessons when you were a child, let me tell you that I’m right there with the crowds. When was the last time you saw me practicing my scales or busting out some Bach fugues? I am busy and my schedule gets full and doing more hard things than I absolutely have to is, well…hard.
My students all have had something in common. They want to have fun. They want to play music that is enjoyable, that makes people smile, that feels good under their fingers, that makes them feel alive. They want to be entertained by what they are doing. So do I. So do you – even if playing piano isn’t what you’re doing. Humans like to have fun.
The thing about playing an instrument (or learning a language, or being an athlete, or being an excellent salesperson, or writing compelling blog posts, or hiking a mountain, or loving our families and friends well, or anything else worth doing in this life) is that the fun is always wrapped up in the hard. Remove the hard and you’ve lost the fun.
Sure, watching TV shows or reading novels or staying in bed all day can be fun. And from time to time I am all about celebrating that kind of fun – the easy fun. But it’s nothing in comparison to the fun of playing a Chopin ballade – loud, fast, and beautifully. Or receiving a standing ovation at the end of the musical you poured your heart into. Or getting to the top of a mountain and seeing the world stretched out in front of you. Or sharing authentic conversations over a cup of coffee. Or living every day with the same person for years on end. Or creating a masterpiece with acrylics and paint brushes.
The hard fun is the worthwhile fun.
There are days when the hard fun seems only hard. The same measure of music will be practiced for an hour and little improvement is seen. Memorizing lines and dance moves is tedious and discouraging. The air is thin and each step seems to take all your strength. Relationships are confusing and marriages get messy. The canvas is smeared and the colors don’t look right.
Somedays hard is all we see.
And what we have to learn on those days is that we can quit. We can call our piano teacher and say never mind, this isn’t as fun as I was hoping it to be. We don’t have to show up. We can drop out of the lives of the people who are too difficult to have a relationship with. We can call in sick. We can stay in our sweat pants and sit on the couch and order take-out for the rest of our lives. No one can make us do the hard things. No parent, no teacher, no spouse, no pastor. We can choose the easy-fun forever.
But there’s another choice.
We can do hard things.
We are equipped. We are stronger than we think. We can stick it out to the bloody end and just when we think we might die from the hard the fun that was wrapped so tightly in the hard will emerge. And when it does we won’t be able to remember the days that we wanted to stay in bed and eat pop-tarts for the rest of our life.
I’ll tell you a secret.
It’s worth it. Doing hard things will be fun in the end.
I don’t care if you stick with piano. That’s not what this is about. Take a break from lessons so you can invest in your studies or work more hours or spend more time with your friends or throw yourself fully into a sport. But whatever you do, don’t quit something just because its hard.
We can do hard things.
Onward and upward.