Recently, caught up with a video on whatsup, by Surf. The meat of the matter is a task to be performed by children and adults alike, a set of obstacles to be surmounted ... while the children who fail, try repeatedly and finally succeed, the adults give up on failing in their first attempt and are unsuccessful in finishing the task. The learning from the video is that children are not afraid to try repeatedly, while the adults shy away after a failure.
I have a completely different take on the wisdom imparted by the Surf video ... entirely based on personal experience. I started learning to play the violin - western classical - at the Delhi School of Music, at the ripe age of 37. I have always wanted to play that instrument ... finally decided 'it's now or never'. For a start, my teacher (Mr Biju Lawrence), a great violinist (ex of Trinity College, London), and an even greater soul (as it would unwind later), was possibly about a decade younger to me. I used to attend classes at 9.00 AM on Saturdays (being holidays). The earlier class (from 8.20 to 9.00 AM) used to be attended by a 14 year old girl (who became a very good friend of mine, and so did her dad, the owner of a high-end exclusive luxury bar in Gurgaon ... but that's another story, for another time). The student who succeeded me (from 9.00 to 9.40 AM) was a 7 year old Romanian girl, naughty, witty, chirpy and as loquacious as a 7-year old can be. Daughter of the first Chancellor at the Embassy of Romania in Delhi, I fathomed after repeated attempts at sweet-talking, that she would rather run around the luscious lawns of the music school than wield the wood. But then, I guess, in Europe, playing the violin, or the piano, or the harp, ... is a sign of your sophistication and having 'arrived', especially if you belong to that class of society where it is considered de rigueur, so she had little choice, poor girl.
Enough of that digression. Let me just confess that I had to bear the ignominy of being sandwiched (in my classes) between a toddler and a teenager ... and all three of us, at around the same stage of learning.
The school had a practice of having monthly concerts on the last Saturday of every month. About 6 months into my classes, my instructor asked me if I would like to attend the forthcoming one as a spectator (I suspect, since I was nowhere near to even playing the beginners 'A' Scale in tune, despite his best efforts). I sat through a memorable and mesmerising experience of an hour or so ... of kids of various ages, shades, colours and in different grades of their music lessons, presenting their prowess on the violin, viola, piano, drums, guitar, clarinet, saxophone, bassinet, keyboard, synthesiser ... the works. I began to be a regular at the monthly concerts from then on. A couple of more months down the line, my beloved teacher silently exploded the most deafening bombshell next to my ear (this despite the fact that I had been in the Navy for more than 15 years by then, and explosions from an anti-ship missile here and a rocket launcher there, had been par for my course in my Naval career). He said, 'how about playing at the next monthly concert?'. I was stunned and stoned. The fact was that I was just a couple of weeks into my first melody (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, in 'A' Major Scale, for those interested) and had never in my scariest dreams imagined that I would ever have to perform (on the violin). Couple that with the rather contrary fact that my other class- fellows (the toddler and the teenager) jumped at the idea.
I refused point-blank ... no amount of coaxing and cajoling by my teacher, my better half or my kids could make me change my mind to subject myself to the public humiliation and mortification that I imagined I would face, were I foolish enough to wield the violin publicly.
Good liquor, often has this uncanny ability of pushing false bravado into your soul. Two drams down and it makes you commit or commit to carry out the most outrageous acts of courage ... one that you wouldn't want, in your stable state of mind, even your most stubborn enemy to take on. Long story short, in a moment of weakness induced by the spirited waters of Isley (Glenfiddich, for the curious), I committed hara kiri (Seppuku, for the Japs amongst us), by acquiescing to perfom at the forthcoming monthly concert. Next day, when sober, the import and the impact of the earlier night's decision whacked me so hard that I had no time for a hangover. But being a 'fauji', you learn it early enough to take it smack on your face. So I got on with the daily preparations with vigour.
However, nothing had prepared me for the stage fright on the day of the performance. Mind you, I had built quite a reputation by then in the Navy, of being a mean guy with chic presentations to the highest level of hierarchy, without flinching or batting an eyelid. So, I was myself taken aback by this new-found fright. That's when my very-learned-but-young violin teacher unleashed two pieces of wisdom ... he said: -
(a) "As far as I am concerned, you and the two young girls are both in Grade 1 of violin, the equivalent of Class 1 in school, so if at all you want to compare, don't look at the age of your co-students, look at what Grade they are in and try to match up."
(b) You're scared to perform because you're scared to make mistakes ... the kids are not scared, because it's expected of them to make mistakes and learn ... as you grow older, you feel you're no longer eligible to make mistakes, because it might prove costly. While that may be true in your professional life (you may be reprimanded, taken to task, or worst case, you may lose your job, depending on the severity of the fault), and even in your personal life (for instance, society won't pardon you for making a mistake with your kids' education or their lives for instance), in this case, you're in Grade 1, Class 1 in school, and unless you make mistakes, you won't learn. You're scared becayse you feel the spectators will judge your performance based on your age and not on the Grade of vioiln schooling you're in. That's true as well ... because they are entitled to look at you as an adult, and an adult is not expected to make mistakes. But you press on, and give it your best shot, make mistakes, learn from them, and improve your performance."
I was shocked, enlightened, and humbled at that piece of wisdom. Suffice to say that, I went on to actually carry the day flawlessly with my performance ... all thanks to that sage piece of advise. Thank you, Biju.