I bought a guitar in high school. At the time, I was struggling with an eating disorder and its various underlying issues, including high anxiety and perfectionism. Needless to say, I did not learn to play that instrument. Instead, I shoved the guitar into the back of my closet where it lived for almost twenty years.
Malnutrition prevented me from having the physical strength and energy to press the strings down on the guitar. And perfectionism told me that if you can’t perform perfectly, don’t do it at all. Since playing the guitar is fun, I also had trouble with that aspect of making music. In those days, I restricted fun (and life in general) in the same way that I limited my food intake.
Anxiety and related fears made me wonder, “Is playing guitar even possible for me?” Unfortunately, I decided that it is easier not to try than to fail. What I know now is that life is all about doing the impossible. As toddlers, I am sure we all thought that walking upright on two legs just wasn’t in the cards for us. It probably seemed too difficult. But none of us is still crawling around on all fours to get from one place to another. We did the impossible!
Is there a guitar in your closet? I am not talking about an actual instrument. I am referring to a deep desire, an unlived dream, or maybe an uncovered passion. Like dusty guitars, our hopes and aspirations tend to get shoved into the back of closets.
Time and time again, eating disorders and addictions get in the way of these life goals. In order to heal and to get my life back, I first had to make recovery a priority. After years of sweat, hard work, and simultaneous letting go, I finally found freedom. Happily, I discovered that when you add recovery to a guitar, you get a guitar player!
Of course, playing my guitar took more than just recovering from my eating disorder. Recovery did give me a solid ground to do it though. Ultimately, I had to open that closet door. In the beginning, I simply set the guitar on a stand in my living room where it became a lovely piece of room décor for a year or so. This might not sound like much progress, but it was for me. Finally, I was acknowledging my passion. I was facing my fear and setting an intention.
Action came next— I held the guitar in my arms. I signed up for lessons. My instructor advised me to practice every day, and I immediately thought that I was too busy for that kind of daily routine. But she continued to say that all I had to do was strum at least one chord each day. Even if I only played for one minute a day, she said that I would reap benefits. I was surprised to discover that she was right. We can actually get a lot done in one minute. One minute a day adds up to six hours in a year. In my case, that equaled six more hours than I had been practicing the year before. Never forget the slogan: progress, not perfection.
We often believe “I am too old”” for this or that. But are we? At age fifteen, I thought that I was already too old to learn how to play a new instrument. In my mind, I had deciphered that it would take ten years before I could play fluently. The truth is that I learned a simple song during my first lesson. Even if it had taken ten years, by age twenty-five, I would have been playing all kinds of songs with ease. Instead, in my mid-twenties, my guitar simply had lots of dust on it. I recently met a ninety-year-old woman who just started taking piano lessons. A friend who never thought she could be a mom recently adopted a baby girl. Many of my colleagues switched gears and entered brand new careers after age fifty. We are never too old to dream.
One more hurdle to fulfilling our desires can be obsessive preparation. I started playing my guitar well before I had solidified a plan regarding what I was actually trying to accomplish as a musician. We frequently put off doing something, because we are “getting ready.” While preparation is necessary, it can hinder us when it becomes an excuse for not taking real action. Sometimes, we do, in fact, have to “just do it” before we have everything mapped out. We can figure it out along the way.
This New Year, make a resolution to get your guitar out of the closet. Maybe you have an actual instrument. Or maybe you want to get more connected spiritually, go back to school, or even write a book. Nothing changes if nothing changes. So, start changing. You, too, will be playing a song in no time!