All my life, I’ve stuck to the things I can easily master.  My brother made me read a book about this when our dad was dying, almost three years ago to the day.  We were in an airport waiting for our flight to or from our last visit with Dad—I’m not sure which, as it blurs now.  I told him how I liked playing Sudoku puzzles, but only if they were easy or medium: the hard sometimes stumped me and the expert always did.  He said he read a book and that I had to read it.  He then went on and on so much that I said, “Fine!  I’ll download the derned thing!”  I did and I read it and I was not happy.  With me.

But that was in 2012, before I knew how to be a failure.   I’ve failed so much since then, that I’ve decided it’s my new hobby. 

The book my brother made me read, Mindset,The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, talked about two mindsets: Fixed and Growth.  Reading this book in 2012, I realized that I was definitely of the Fixed Mindset.  I was good at what I was good at and didn’t try things I wasn’t already good at. If I accidentally got sucker punched into trying something I wasn’t magically a natural at, well, I quit.  Quickly.

After reading this book, I did only Hard and Expert Sudoku puzzles for a while.  Sometimes I didn’t complete them in one sitting and sometimes I had to start over.  But you know what?  Now I do only Expert, as I can do the Hard without a blink.  Sometimes I still fail and have to start over.  Newsflash: The world does not end.

Moving to a Growth mindset is a conscious effort with every step.  Instinctively, I gravitate to Fixed and don’t try things I’m not good at.  It’s just sorta my thing.  In work, relationships, hobbies, and the world in general, I gravitate towards the things that I think might get me praise.   “Wow, Debbie, you are a master at this.  You rock.  You are awesome.” Not that I ever actually hear those words, but at least when I try easy things I don’t hear, “You suck and should just quit.”  Not that I ever hear those words from anyone other than myself, although I fear them more than I crave the good ones.

But sometimes… sometimes, I force it.  I force myself to do hard things.  It is really forcing and I really am getting good at not excelling.  And failing over and over again is, I’m sure, going to pay off in the long run. I fail at relationships and it’s okay because I’m learning to not settle for what's easy.  I fail at Sudoku expert level and it’s okay because it was just really hard and this is just practice.  Like life.  I fail at work because oh my God seriously, Work?!?  You set me up for this shit. And I fail at being a mom, because isn’t that what Moms do?  Set such high expectations for ourselves that they are automatically un-achievable (see: Pinterest).

Because of my new-found success at failure, I decided a few years ago that I was going to learn some sort of music, even though I have no musical abilities.  I was told as a kid that I was a klutz and ungraceful, so I never tried any dance or music or anything requiring any elegance at all. Because I might suck.

But now with my new-found quest for failure, what better thing to do than music where I was sure to be a big fat crapola of shit.  I tried guitar with Signa the first summer she took lessons, but it wasn’t my thing.  I wasn’t bad enough to fail, but I was bored enough to just zone out.  I always thought piano would be my thing, but it just wasn’t right, either—too soothing and too... something.  Or maybe not enough something. Whatever.  Just not for me.

The only other thing I could think of was drums.  I saw my father-in-law playing his drums in his band a few times and he looked like he was having so much fun.  So I googled for a teacher.  There were two that I thought may fit my needs.  One was in San Jose and the other right in my town.  I bookmarked both a couple of years ago and then… life. 

Last year I emailed the guy in my town and we decided after the first of this year would be a good time to start lessons.  So earlier this year, I started my drum lessons with Joe Salles.

Now this post’s title is FAILURE, but Joe is not one of those.  He’s a great guy, a great drummer, and his teaching is perfect for me.  He has this odd intuition to know when something is too hard, just hard enough, or too easy.  He pauses, moves ahead, or switches it up accordingly.  This occurred to me a few months ago when I was trying to get something, couldn’t, and he started telling a story.  It wasn’t our normal chat cycle that we do in lessons; it was timed differently.  Noticeably different. Then he stopped talking a few minutes later and said, “Try again.”  I was able to do whatever it was just fine.  I just needed a mental break and he knew it, even though I didn’t have a clue other than, “I suck and should just quit.”

We work on rudiments and syncopation and stick control and we both know I will never be a rock star or in a band or a famous drummer.  But you know what?  I can’t remember ever having this much fun learning to do something I’m not all that great at.

Sometimes failure is just what the doctor ordered.


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