When I was in grade school, my father made me quit piano lessons. That’s not the whole story. But that’s the way my brain recorded it. That event has echoed through my entire life.
What really happened is that I have always loved the piano. I almost never listened to “pop” music as a kid, so I fell in love with piano from the blues and early rock era, plus a healthy dose of New Orleans creole. For example:
- Professor Longhair – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDjkrNCF1qY
- Dr. John – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28b6LaZXuFA
- Moon Mullican – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R00dWeHB28U&t=55s
- Jerry Lee Lewis, Commander Cody, and so many others. And then I discovered Willie Nelson, which led me to Bobbie Nelson, Leon Russell, etc.
I wanted to play serious boogie woogie piano. But that starts with one lesson. And you don’t get to play anything fun. And the first actual song, after learning the notes, is a stupid kid song no one actually sings. Ever. Anywhere.
The bottom line is that it takes time. I was paying for lessons with my paperboy earnings. The neighbor had a real piano I could practice on. So I tortured them. I wasn’t good, but I was trying.
I was also running two paper routes (one morning and one evening), and doing lots of extra curricular stuff at school. I was the classic busy kid. But I was too busy. I was getting frayed, and my father saw that.
One day, he sat me down and said that I enjoyed too many things. You can’t do everything you love. And the older you get, the more things you will love. Sometimes, you have to cut out something.
He told me that I have to pick one activity to stop. It was very, very difficult. And I eventually decided to drop the piano. To be fair to my father, *I* decided it would be the piano.
All of my life, I have continued to love great blues, jazz, and rock piano. There are too many great artists to list. But I could never make the time to take it up again. On two occasions, I have bought myself a decent keyboard. But I never made the time to actually sit down and practice enough to be bad. I am merely horrible.
And if you ever hear me say, “I’d give anything to play piano like that,” you’ll know it’s not true. At every stage of my life, something else was always more important than this thing I love. School was more important. My graduate degrees were more important. My marriage was more important. My daughter was more important. My job was more important. And on and on.
Ultimately, Time is a Choice. By that, I mean that you always spend your time on what you actually hold most important – no matter what you say. You can say something is important, but if it never gets done, it just never made it up the list of actual behavioral priorities.
I still love adding new things. I do it all the time. But there’s a humorous saying I’ve always enjoyed:
“Try, try again. But if you fail three times, give up. There’s no point being stupid about it.”
I try new things in my business. And I think I give them a good amount of time and money. But if they don’t take off, I just quietly redirect the domain name to an essay I wrote entitled “Know When to Quit.” For example, go to https://promotionmonkey.com – it will redirect you.
After all these years, it’s still hard for me to quit things. I don’t do many things that are random or low priority. So when I have to do some serious quitting, it means quitting things that are actually important to me. And that hurts.
Also, quitting has a bad name in modern society. You don’t want to be a quitter. Quitters never win and winners never quit. We all know that’s not true, but we repeat it again and again. In fact, quitting may be one of the most important elements of success!
I like the futurist Daniel Burrus’ advice to skip your biggest problem. In other words, eliminate the biggest challenge you have from you problem solving strategy. How else can you achieve your goals if you stop focusing on the problem and focus on the desired result. See his essay on skipping your problems.
Instead of quitting, look at this process as trimming. If you’re a gardener, you know you can’t sculpt a bush all at once. It will look like junk. You need to let it over-grow a bit, then trim. Then let it fill in, and trim. Successful gardens take constant nurturing. Let things grow, then shape and mold into something that you can only achieve over time.
Let me be clear: The process of trimming – quitting something important – is rarely easy. It can be almost heart breaking. In some cases, it truly does represent an admission of failure. But you trim out the bits you need to, and you have more energy and focus for the things you keep.
Every important change you make in your life moves you forward. Maybe not the “forward” you thought you were working for, but you can never go backward. So it has to be a move forward, into the next version of yourself. You’re a work in progress.
So don’t forget to practice!