Lessons from playing “Mary Had A Little Lamb” approximately 200 times on the Bb Clarinet.

I’m a perfectionist. It’s plagued me for most of my life. Recently, though, I’ve given myself more space to allow flaws more than ever before, probably because I see the beauty, necessity, and importance of making errors. But pair my desire to be perfect with how much I enjoy being good at things, and it’s creates a whirlpool of languished dreams. 

I’m at the beginning of a career shift, hoping to transition from teaching young children to pastoral counseling. This is scary, even when you don’t consider what you are doing to be a career, but just a daily job. It’ll involve going back to school and completely reorganizing my life. In short, it’s an INFJ nightmare. I’m not sure what’s coming or how to plan for the next few years (or even months) of my life. Days like today though, when it’s apparent that what I spend my days doing isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing are enough to push through the uncomfort of not knowing what’s next. 

I spend a lot of time in self-reflection, it might seem self-centered to outsiders, but it’s the only way I can function normally in society. Today as I was reflecting on the exhaustedness that my job brought, I wondered if I was just being a wimp. Teaching preschool is not an easy job, and I’ve learned so much from spending nearly six years doing this, but for me, it is an emotionally exhausting job. If it weren’t for the crafts, the dancing, the silliness, and the adorable stories I collect, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Even though my need and desire for personal space increases dramatically some days, the part that has probably kept me doing this for so long, dispute the negative effects, is that I’m good at it. 

What do you do when you don’t love to do something but you do it really, really well? For me, the answer is always a subconscious: KEEP GOING! Like I said, I like to excel at things. 

Learning to play the clarinet in 6th grade band was fairly easy, and by that I don’t mean I was naturally a good clarinet player, I mean if you’ve ever heard a terrible clarinet student, that was never me. (The clarinet can make some of the ugliest sounds a 13 year-old can make.) I picked up the basics easily, I rocked the basic scales, and you should have heard my “Mary Had A Little Lamb”, seriously it was awesome. I played that short song more than I have ever done anything consecutively. As our band director tried to push our musical bounds to more complex things like “Man On the Flying Trapeze”, I vividly remember my response: brief panic and a polite ’no thanks, I’m good’. 

I was afraid of not being good at the next challenge. I found my sweet spot in my third week of playing clarinet and I was content. Sure, it might have been boring playing the same nursery rhyme over and over, but I was good, dammit, and I was terrified of being anything but.  

This is such an adept analogy to how I approach life it makes me uncomfortable to share. If I’m honest, I’m terrified of playing the wrong note in life. Which, if you’re privy to my view on free will, is humorous; the fear is still real, although invalid. I love being the big fish in the little bowl. I found a sweet spot a few weeks after graduating college in something I was never trained to do, and I’ve stayed since. I want to pursue a career that will be fulfilling and restorative; I want to be involved in discussions about how people’s faith have shaped their life. What if I’m better at cutting, coloring, and pasting, though?

I did learn other songs and eventually picked up a couple of other instruments, including a brief stint with the triangle the year I broke my ankle during marching season…now that, that was a failure. I’m sure I can broaden my life experience the same way, I just have push myself into the scary unknown of possible failure. 

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