My new home often enough feels saturated with piano music. It annoyed me a whole lot when I got here, and there was a point in time when I thought to myself ‘If that person plays that thing a second past x:00 I shall go downstairs and tell them as forcefully, and politely, as possible to please stop.’ I eventually saw who was playing upon investigating one day. It was a person who had seemed to be quite nice when we had met before and since that day I’ve been able to enjoy rather than get annoyed by the music (most times). But then, it got me to wondering… “Why did that piano playing disgust me so much?”
…and then I remembered the last time that I had played.
The last few times I played the piano, years ago, I broke down crying and subsequently gave up with the thought “I’ll never be good enough.”
I wasn’t good enough for my music teacher. I think that she disliked me just as much as I disliked her. After passing grade 1 solo piano, she decided that I should jump to grade 3. I wasn’t ready, I made too many mistakes, and the feeling of ‘being a failure’ was probably never more salient within me than at that point…up until that point I had enjoyed playing music. But, whereas my teacher approached playing a piece from a very mechanical point of view, I tended to approach music…as probably with most things in my life…from an emotional, feeling view. I had to take my time with music, get to know it at my own pace. I wasn’t afforded that, so I got nervous, made mistakes, was then told how horribly I played, started hating playing music, got to the exam and broke down crying in front of the examiner…a mature English man…he gave me another chance to try again on another day, and I went back and cried again. I failed.
I don’t think that I’ve played the piano, or any musical instrument for that matter, successfully since… and thinking of playing again tends to fill me with a confusing mix of emotions– longing, shame and fear. This is only one memory, one experience, but it’s safe to say that since being in England, my mind is so flooded by different feelings, past and present, that I’m finding it more difficult, than I anticipated it would be, to cope, to move; to believe. So many things trigger memories, so many things trigger hurt, so many things make me feel inadequate, so many things get me frustrated, so many things make me feel lonely, and so many things are revealing just how weak I really am.
But at the age of 14, I knew that speaking in front of a crowd scared me…so I volunteered to lead morning assembly at school in front of hundreds of girls…and I continued volunteering until I finished school- and by that time it didn’t scare me (as much) anymore.
Someone stopped me whilst I was walking through a building here and said “I know you…you’re the person who made the presentation at the Graduate School of Life Sciences seminar last week”. I smiled and said ‘Yes’. I thought (actually, I know) that my part of the presentation was quite flawed. I stuttered, tripped over my words and was still a bit afraid; but I was the first and only one to stand and freely volunteer to guide the planning of our newly formed group. I was the first person to volunteer to speak at our presentation-despite being one of the most introverted people ever. I stood up when no-one else wanted to and I was the only one who didn’t need extra coaxing to present to a large group of new graduate students, impromptu, on a just researched topic. I certainly was not the best speaker there, six other groups began with speakers and they all sounded very well spoken… but I spoke! Years ago, at 14, I made the decision to step out of my comfort zone so that I could become a better me…and now, 10 years later, I was able to stand in front of a group of PhD students, MPhils, Doctors and Professors in the fanciest hotel I’ve ever seen in my life and present a topic at a moment’s notice.
I know too many amazing, talented, gifted people –myself included at times- who tempt failure with fear and lack of belief in themselves when they have exactly, and maybe even more than, what it takes to succeed. It may take some time -maybe a few weeks, maybe a few years, maybe 1 million tears- to overcome weakness and stand up; but I’ve come to appreciate that where there is a will, there is a way– and when you begin to travel along that way you realise just how strong you really are.