“I can do hard things”

Yesterday was the 23rd anniversary of my senior recital, a performance required for graduating with a music degree.

It is one of the accomplishments in my life that I’m most proud of, and it represents a pivotal shift in my thinking. While my mindset on many things has changed over time, I can’t imagine another that would be as far-reaching as this one—and I didn’t realize what had happened until much later.

When I got to college, I was surrounded by people who played significantly better than I. My mindset was, “I’ll never catch up. They’ve been practicing and taking lessons for years!” Figuring there was no making up for lost time, I practiced enough to get by.

But when an injury led me to changing my instrument from flute to trombone—an instrument entirely dissimilar to what I was familiar with—I had to catch up if I was going to graduate.

And while it took an extra two years, I did it. I focused, practiced, worked, and made it.

Dressed in a blue satiny shirt and similar black pants, I walked onto the stage that Sunday evening more thrilled than scared. Sure, solo performance is scary, but I had spent a lot of hours alone in a practice room, playing until my face literally wouldn’t let me any more, and I was there to show everyone what I could do.

Relative to how I was playing at the time, the performance was great. One of the guys in the studio who was an excellent player (and went on to play professionally) said to me after, “I didn’t know you could do that.” 

What was the gift?

Growth mindset. While overused in some contexts and expected to be a cure-all when it’s not, nothing in my life has opened more doors than “I can do hard things” or “I can learn things that are hard to learn.” 

Just because I can’t do it now doesn’t mean I will never be able to.

Just because I don’t get it in one try doesn’t mean I won’t get it in two or five or a dozen tries. The actual question is, “How many tries is it worth to me to get it?” (or maybe “Is this worth the time and effort?”), not “Will I be able to do this?”

There are plenty of times that I have to take a step back from my automatic “I can’t do it” response and remind myself that yes, I can. But the reminder is there with plenty of evidence to back it up.

I can do hard things.

Unless some other life event had come along to cause that shift, too many things in the last 23 years I couldn’t have done without that experience. My life would be drastically different.

If you’re stuck in a “this is how I am” or “these are all the skills I have” or “I didn’t learn it before now and can therefore never learn it” space, I can’t recommend strongly enough taking the first step to shift towards “maybe I can.” 

It’s life-changing.

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