“I don’t think I’ll ever be a good piano player,” I recently told a friend.
I didn’t say this out of a place of sadness or regret. I’m not even sure that I want to be a good pianist. I was trying to be realistic about where I was at. I know the work that it would take to get to that point and the sacrifices I would have to make to get there, and I have decided that, for right now at least, it’s not a priority of mine.
You see, there’s this thing that I’ve been referring to in my head as “the gap,” but I really think it’s another facet of the Pit from the Project Mood Curve. We often view the Pit as a place of apathy or depression, a place where we no longer have the desire to keep going. But the gap has less to do with your motivation and more to do with the nature of the activity.
On the quest to become great at something, you will inevitably get to a point where you have to work extra hard to “bridge the gap” between one level and the next. In a blog post on The Project Mood Curve, I mentioned how I started to teach myself how to play bass this year (you may be sensing a musical theme). When I picked the instrument, I will be honest that part of the reason I went with bass instead of guitar is that I didn’t want to be another mediocre guitarist. It’s very easy to be a mediocre guitarist, and it’s very hard to be a good one. The gap between mediocre and good is very wide and requires a lot of momentum to cross it.
You likely experienced this phenomenon in an extra-curricular activity growing up. You play soccer all through elementary and middle school recreationally, but when you get to high school there aren’t many opportunities to play the sport more casually. You either have to commit and do it for real, sacrificing lots of time and energy and money for the sport, or quit. This is in part because you have to bridge the gap. You’ve gotten to an intermediate level, and now extra exertion is required to advance to the next stage.
The Pit is a place of reckoning where you decide if something is helping you get There and is worth your time and effort, or if you should restart the Project Mood Curve with another activity.
I’ve had to ask myself recently if the reason I’ve picked up so many different instruments is that I’ve been unwilling to bridge the gap, and so I keep going back and bringing something else up to an intermediate level before I have to bridge the gap again and end up repeating the process over.
Now when I “quit,” I don’t actually stop the activity, I just stop working to improve at the same rate I was. But instead of achieving the desired effect of saving myself time and effort by not committing to one thing, I’ve actually stretched myself even thinner in an attempt to keep up with all of these new activities.
I don’t regret learning any of the 4-5 instruments that I can play with varying degrees of excellence. They each have allowed me new venues for self expression or granted me access into new communities. Some instruments I practice to be able to share with others, and some are just for me to have fun and relax while playing. But I know that by choosing to pursue a few different activities, I have lowered the level of excellence I will be able to achieve on any one instrument just because of the time I will have to commit to it.
Now that doesn’t feel like a big deal when I’m talking about my hobbies. These aren’t pursuits that I’m trying to make money off of or ones that will deeply affect my family life. But what if I’m spreading myself too thin at my job and avoiding the hard work of bridging the gap in one skill? Or maybe I’m putting all my time towards my career and personal pursuits and not leaving any time for my loved ones? Or perhaps my spouse or child is into an activity that I’m not particularly interested in, but I need to bridge the gap in order to show them that I care for them and can join in on their interests?
Maybe I’ll never be a good pianist and be able to sight-read accompaniment. But I’m putting myself into a fixed mindset by insisting that it’s just not going to happen. I have what it takes to bridge the gap, and I shouldn’t quit for fear of failing or a desire to get out of hard work. Reminding myself of that is how I can get out of the Pit. I’ve bridged the gap before, and I know I can do it again.
But I know that it will take hard work and sacrifices to get There. I will have to prioritize one thing over another in order to have the time it takes to bridge the gap. Anything worth my time is going to take some time to be worth doing. But it is well worth the effort.
Gracie McBride is the Content and Systems Management Coordinator for The Crossroad.