Two weeks ago I bought a ukulele. I have wanted to learn how to play another instrument for a long while and I realized holding a ukulele is like holding a rainbow; you can’t be sad when playing the ukulele. And I really need more joy in my life so I bought a ukulele and brought her home. She’s so pretty! I think her name will be Nāmaka for the Hawaiian Goddess of the sea. I digress…anyway…I brought home my beautiful new instrument so excited to learn. There was no pressure to be good, this is just for me. This was just for fun.
But let’s be honest, I have Bachelors of Music from Northwestern University, a Masters of Music from Indiana University and PhD from Sydney Conservatorium of Music. I played bassoon professionally for 15 years. When I think about the number of hours I practiced, it is well over 30,000. So even though there was no pressure to be good at ukulele, I didn’t think it would be very hard. I mean, come on, the ukulele only has four strings, bassoon has twenty-nine keys, nine keys for one thumb alone. This is going to be a piece of cake and by the beginning of March I will be able to play anything I wanted on the ukulele. Playing ukulele will come naturally for me because of all that I can already do in music. I should totally be good at this.
Funny. All the years of taking music theory courses; the countless hours of playing bassoon; the half million dollars in college degrees in music; the numerous years taking piano lessons and singing lessons – and NONE of these have a thing have made me good at ukulele. In fact, I am not good at this. I am a total beginner at this new instrument. And my ego hates it.
But I am literally holding a rainbow, so I can’t be in a bad mood. So like every other person of this generation, I started watching YouTube videos about how to play ukulele. In a video by Cynthia Lin she was talking about how to make faster cord changes, which I desperately need since holding down strings is hard; I spent years learning how to flatten my fingers and now you want them curved!??!?! In her video she talked about how slow practice is key. She gave three exercises to work on your finger dexterity in an extremely slow manner to eventually have faster clean changes. And this is where my years and years of experience comes in handy. I know all about slow practice. I am an expert at breaking something down into the smallest chunk and working it painfully slowly until someday it becomes great. My morning ritual for 10 years was practicing 5 notes repeatedly, in different patterns, painfully slowly for 90 minutes (ah the Kovar exercises for my bassoon friends in the audience). But I didn’t want to do that on ukulele, I just wanted to be good! I was trying to skip the work and the practice and just be good at. But apparently if you want a skill you actually have to work at it….
So what does this have to do with pole? Did you not recognize your own internal thoughts in the above in relation to your pole tricks? Because we think this ALL THE TIME. We believe all the time that we SHOULD be good at this new thing we are learning. That because of what we know and can already do this new thing should be easy. We should be good at this new thing. Why?!?!? Why would I be good at an instrument I have never picked up? It’s ridiculous to think it, but I did expected it to be pretty easy and to be good at it quickly and was disappointed when that wasn’t the case. And now my ego has to step aside so I can put in the work. And that is your pole and aerial journey, friends. When we can do a Fireman, we think we should be able to get a Handspring easily. When we have a beautiful Jade, we think Rainbow Marchenko should be easy to get. Because we’re good at pole, we think hoop should be easy. Because we’re good at Hammock, we think Silks should be easy. Because we can walk, we think of dancing should be easy. And every single one of these thoughts is ridiculous. None of these things are “Natural” they are all LEARNED skills. I should not to be good at something I have never done and I have to let go of that expectation. But what I can focus on is that the tools that helped me get the first thing WILL help me get the second thing. I know the tools work because I got the first thing. So in time I will get the second with slow practice. I should NOT be good at this naturally; I will become good at this with work.