Eat the Frog
13 Wednesday Oct 2010
The most effective, useful, practical, efficient choice to get something done may be the most obvious one, but it is seldom the easiest one.
Nagging technical problem? Just can’t get control of that trill or that upper register quick lick? Sputtering note in the low register? The music asks for a fluttertongue that you don’t have? Wide slur that attracts grit in the middle? The easiest path is to struggle with the problem, once, twice, and go on to something that is a lot easier.
In other words: denial. It’s quick, cheap, easy, and it ensures that the problem will be there just as before, waiting for you when you return.
The alternative is to gird your loins (whatever that means) and confront the problem. Think it through. Discover (possibly through trial and error) a way to solve it, starting with something that you can do and gradually transforming that in the direction of the problem until you reach the promised land.
It ain’t easy. You and your ego have to stare at this testimony to ignorance and inability (yours) and do battle with it until it succumbs. That’s one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is to think, “Oh, boy! An opportunity to learn! A chance to improve!”
It may take days, months, years. It takes guts and gumption and motivation at the chromosomal level. And the hardest part is simply starting.
How do you start? It might help to remember the saying, “If the hardest thing you have to do today is eat a frog, then just eat the frog and get it over with and get on with life.”
Eat the frog. Face the problem and repeat the saying. And get going.
The idea of this is also nicely encapsulated in the Zen koan “The obstacle is the path.”
The most worthwhile things in life require struggle. It is the struggle that improves, strengthens, sharpens, enriches, educates us: “Fair seas never made a good sailor;” “Only dead fish swim with the current.” It’s a common misconception that if only things were suddenly, magically “easy”, life would be wonderful. The sad fact is that most lottery winners find that their lives are ruined by the instant deluge of fame and fortune, both of which quickly evaporate. Consistent, diligent work toward a goal (musical performance springs to mind) establishes a solid inner core of self-confidence and the ability to face and solve problems of all kinds when (not if) they come along. While I don’t agree with the idea that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us better (some stuff doesn’t kill us but injures to a degree that makes life difficult in all kinds of ways), I do think that dealing with obstacles educates, and the best teaching arranges those obstacles so that each successive one is the right degree of difficulty so that success is achievable after some struggle.
Struggle is tough, but its rewards are worth it. The work pays dividends on all future work you do. Of course you do have to get used to the idea that solving a problem doesn’t mean no more problems. It just means new problems at a new level. But that’s a feature, not a bug. Look forward to the new problems: more chances to learn and improve. (the only thing you might do is come up with ways to sweeten the endure-and-grind-it-out routine typical of much musical practice; you increase the fun and add to flexibility by adding your own choices to the routine [a.k.a improvising in various ways], but that’s a subject for another post). Golf, for example, is interesting to play because it is nothing but problems: distance, direction, rough, bunkers, hills, wind, and whapping the ball just right. Horn playing can be the same.
So on those cold mornings when the will is weak when facing that frustrating problem:
Eat the frog.