Sunday, November 24

I hope you fail (best words: part one)

My hands ache as I focus on the chords. Some come smoothly, others fumble forward.

It's my final day, my final grade. This one jazz standard.

It's me, this old guitar, and the professor, with the door open, the breeze flowing through. I take a breath and start again. At the beginning.

photo cred: Daemon, via Wikimedia Commons
I close my eyes and just play, and all of a sudden, I'm done. He nods. I can't tell whether I did well or not. I replay the notes in my head but they all blend together. And he nods again.

The whole semester of lessons had felt like I was failing. Not in that nice, everyone-gets-a-ribbon sort of way, but failing, making mistakes rapidly without even realizing it. Blending chords that don't mix. Strumming at the wrong time. Making my own rhythm and then relearning it again.

He starts to talk, and I feel like I know what's coming. That I'm just not one of those people who have rhythm, or are talented, or I need to practice more.

"You worked really hard," he takes a sip of his coffee and stands up straighter. "Elizabeth, I hope you fail." I freeze. He talks with his hands, tracing a concept in the air.

"You're going to graduate and get a job and make a life for yourself. And maybe you'll play guitar, and maybe you won't. But don't be paralyzed by perfection. You're going to fail at a lot of things-- it's called learning. And I hope you fail. I hope you play jazz songs your own way, and make paths where there are none, and take jobs and quit them.

You have this fear of failing, and it will paralyze you if you let it. The moment you really fail is when you stop trying. Don't ever stop trying."


I wrote those words down, and I found them today. I found them like a favorite song, like a letter from an old friend. They proved to be some of the best words anyone ever gave me. You see,

I don't play the guitar anymore.

I remember my favorite chords; I can pick some melodies. I have chosen jobs and moved my possessions, started hobbies and abandoned them. I am trying, moving forward, full force, with every melody I've got.

He was right: learning sometimes feels a lot like failing. But it's in that learning you find something out about yourself, something truer than safety:

You are incredibly resilient. You will try things and change them. You will risk and learn about yourself. You, you are your own person, with your own music. You are not alone. You are an always-changing, always-valuable story. And we,

we are waiting with sweet anticipation to see what good things happen next.

What are the best words someone has given you? Advice? Encouragement?

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