Have you ever been told (or know someone who was told) “It’s too late to learn an instrument at this point in your life” or “You’ve aged out of all music festivals and haven’t landed a big job – it’s too late to progress”? This is part of an old, false belief that’s still making its rounds around the globe. It’s part of a fixed mindset epidemic that’s easier to fall into as we go through life.
This past year, I picked up 2 new hobbies: container gardening and swimming.
Until this past May, I’ve never grown a vegetable in my life, and the only time I planted any flowers was with my grandma as a 12-year old. This month, I harvested my first zucchini and bowl of cherry tomatoes.
Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to participate in any sports, which meant no basic swimming lessons (something most children take part in). Learning how to swim as an adult is extremely challenging – mentally more than anything. I taught myself and practiced a few things in the ocean for the past 5 summers or so (which took a lot of guts at the time). Finally, this past year I was able to take classes designated for people like me. When I started swimming laps, I felt a level of freedom like never before – almost like taking back control of something important in life.
So many people I meet on the streets and subway ask “Is that a violin?” pointing to the case on my back, “I always wanted to play, it’s such a beautiful instrument.” or “I used to play in school but wasn’t any good. My teacher wasn’t very nice.” If any of those people *truly* wanted to take up the violin, I really hope they found courage to take an initiative – not easy to do! A big part of finding that courage is to surround oneself with a supportive community.
What about professional musicians? So many amazing musicians I know go through a tough time as freelancers. While there’s nothing wrong with freelancing, for many it’s a “career purgatory” of sorts between conservatory and landing a good orchestra or teaching/professorship job. What if this “phase” drags on for a very long time and with each passing year it becomes more discouraging to keep trying? Just like in the previous example, a big key to making progress and having a chance at success lies in community. I’m super thankful to have been surrounded by kind, encouraging teachers in my life. All, except one mentor during my 3-year break between bachelor’s and master’s degrees. After a few years of knowing me, one day they asked for my age after a session. I was 23 at the time. They reacted with, “Wow, Inna you don’t have much time to make progress!” The biggest lie going around was that if a musician doesn’t get a major long-term gig (ex – ICSOM Orchestra) by age 25, they are done and need to switch careers.
Dear musicians ~ do you have a good support team? It’s a vast world out there and our environment, combined with a growth mindset greatly shapes us. If you want to learn an instrument or take your playing to the next level as an adult, your mindset and simply showing up regularly will make it possible. Most important is to enjoy the journey and approach the process with curiosity. There WILL be struggles along with the joy. You WILL love it and be frustrated at the same time sometimes. That’s part of the learning process! Yes, of course learning younger is completely different – our brains are wired totally differently. However, plasticity in the mind and body remains for a very long time – if you LET it mold.