Taking Steps Toward Leadership–Perceptions

I am a music teacher at heart.  I have been teaching for nearly 50 years, so it’s not something I give up easily.  I have a position that pays me well enough that I do not have to teach the children that are only taking lessons because “Mom said I had to!”  I do not have to teach the ones whose parents won’t make them practice because they don’t want them to “hate music” for the rest of their lives.  (Oh for heaven’s sake, it’s a discipline!  You think your kids are going to hate self discipline for the rest of their lives?  Apparently, since you do!  But I digress…)  Believe it or not, lines and spaces and fingerings and note names are not the most important things I have to teach.  In nearly 70% of my students, perception is the first thing I have to handle.  (Handel …get it?  composer?  Gah!  Music jokes!)

Now to have strong hands, you need to do these exercises:  finger stretches and contractions, independent motion exercises, and coordination exercises.  “Those are going to be hard!”  No, they’re new.  They’re different.  They will require you to do something you’ve never done before.  My question is, “Why do people have to classify new activities as either easy or hard before they try them?”  “This will hurt.  That will be a piece of cake.  I’m not sure I can do that.  This will be confusing.”  Let me stress that this is before they try things.  If my students could do these things easily, what would be the point?  If these exercises or skills were easy to acquire, would they need a teacher?  Why would the perceived difficulty deter you from trying something new?  Of what value would an easily acquired skill be?

The phrase I hate to hear is, “It’s Easy!  All you have to do is…”  It’s never easy if it’s new.  And all you have to do is do something you’ve never done before.  If you cannot do this easy task perfectly, what does that make you?  This task will require practice, discipline, perseverance, and focus.  You will be able to blah blah blah when you succeed and it will be totally worth the effort!  That would be something I’d gravitate toward!  You will be able to control the composition of your photographs and adjust the lighting.  You will be able to kick field goals successfully 96% of the time.  You will be able to stand in front of 1000’s of people without fear.  See?  So why would anyone back off from the difficult tasks?  You will be able to walk across wood floors.  You will be able to recite the first 5 letters of the alphabet.  You will be able to run 30 seconds in your back yard where no one is watching.  These activities do not inspire.  They do not spark the imagination.  They don’t even work up a sweat–mentally or physically.

The other phrase I hate is this:  “Oh, I could never do something like that!”  Why not?  Is it because someone asked you to play basket ball with the Harlem Globetrotters and you are 5’2″ and 72 years old?  Is it because you have to lift up the back end of a Volkswagon and you only have 1 arm?  My follow up questions are, “Have you ever tried?” or “Would you like to try?”  I would never assign something to a student that I knew they couldn’t accomplish, and yet, that phrase comes out.  Then they work on it for a week and get it down and perform it at the next lesson well enough to pass.  I congratulate them.  They reply, “You lie, it was awful!” or “You’re very kind, but it wasn’t very good.”  Who’s the teacher?  Why would I lie?  Last week they said they couldn’t do it.  This week they did it.  Then they object to being congratulated.  The perception here is that they thought it was impossible, and it wasn’t therefore it must have been easy and anyone could have done it perfectly the 1st time.  And since their performance was slow and awkward, they failed.  They would have felt better if the assignment HAD been impossible so at least they could get an “I told you so” in.

So what am I saying here?  If you’re facing a new task, and you will gain a valuable skill or perform something for the good of the group, or gain some insight or knowledge, say this, “Ooooh!  That looks interesting!”  “I will do my best!!”  “That looks like fun!”  “I can hardly wait to get started!”  See?  Easy and Hard don’t even come into the picture.  Go!  Do something new!


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