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Continuing to practice new skills despite initial failure

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Over the summer, I took on the challenge of learning guitar. I play several instruments, so I wasn’t expecting it to be very hard. In the beginning, I thought that I was learning well. I had learned several generic chords and strumming patterns, could play a few songs and sounded OK in my own ears. Then I recorded myself to know what I sounded like from the front of my guitar.

It was bad. I was completely stopping every time I changed chords, I was muting strings that didn’t need to be muted and my guitar just sounded wrong. This humbled me. At the time, I was in the mindset that guitar was an easy instrument or that I was just naturally good. Nonetheless, I stuck with it and practiced nearly every day knowing that I sounded bad. By the end of the summer, I was alright at guitar.

It was a long experience, but it made me think about learning my other instruments, and I came to a conclusion. To effectively learn things, you have to be OK with being horrible at them.

My first and primary instrument is the trumpet. I consider myself pretty good, but the other brass players in the FAB might tell you differently.  In my first lesson, I was supposed to learn a G, which sits near the middle of the staff and on the lower end of trumpet notes. At the time, I hadn’t built up any of the muscles needed to play trumpet. Because of this, I had to start with middle C, which is pretty low in the range of notes that a trumpet can play. I was bad and embarrassed about being bad, so I wouldn’t practice unless I was in a lesson or band class. 

It took me years to improve, and I wasn’t good until near the end of high school. I found a much better environment in college to practice in and am improving much faster. Yet, my earlier experience playing trumpet was vastly different than my earlier experience playing guitar. I consider the main difference to be my change in mentality where I was OK being awful at guitar and playing anyway.

This affects more than music too. When I think back to starting journalism, I remember getting a C on an assignment that I tried really hard on. It wasn’t my first low grade ever, but it was really striking to me since I put a ton of effort into the story. When I went to my teacher about the grade, I started tearing up over it. She told me one of the most important things I have ever heard in my life: not to get worked up about it as nobody writes well their first time.

It’s a really obvious statement when said out loud, but I needed to be told it. Up to that point, I felt like I either had to be good at things or not do them at all. Hearing that one sentence changed all of that. I joined the yearbook the next year and was able to practice writing without the fear of failure. I was hooked and haven’t been able to leave the journalism space since. As my current editors know, I am definitely not perfect at writing, but my writing has improved since then, and I hope it continues so far into the future.

It is important to set up a good environment to practice anything that you are passionate about. Another part of that is accepting that you are going to suck at whatever you are doing. It’s OK to sit in that uncomfortable feeling of being bad in front of people.

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Lucas Ratliff
Lucas Ratliff, Reporter
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