I'm not enough of a productivity champion that I can work for 14 hours straight with no breaks at all. Sometimes I"ll find myself pressed up against some extra tricky problem, and even after taking shots at it from various angles, I can't quite push through. In times like those, it helps to take a break for a few minutes, and then try again.
Old habits die hard. I used to be obsessed with getting deals on stuff. I still am a little bit. One of the best resources for deals is Fatwallet.com, which I still check once every three or four months, down from several times a day. The last time I checked, four months ago or so, I saw a violin for $50. Shipped. Including a bow, extra strings, rosin, and a case.
I bought it, thinking that if I loved playing the violin, I could give that one away and buy a good one, and if not, I could give it away and not buy a good one. Either way, fifty bucks to see if I was interested in playing the violin seemed like a good idea. I should also add that I had been reading a lot of Sherlock Holmes, and Sherlock plays the violin when he's thinking. I was probably influenced by that.
It turned out that I loved playing the violin. Not loved as in drop-everything-and-train-for-the-symphony, but taking a few minutes to bang out twinkle twinkle little star was a good way to relax my mind for a minute before getting back to the task at hand. As I worked, I would leave the violin sitting on my bed. Whenever I needed a break, I'd get up and play for a couple minutes.
After a month or two, my sister gave me her old violin, which is a lot better than the $50 one (which, too, sounded surprisingly good) and I decided to take some lessons.
When I learn a new skill, I like to think about how good I actually want to be at it. In a world where you can jack a plug into the back your head like in The Matrix, I'd pick 100% proficiency every time, of course. But we don't live in that world-- time is short.
When I learned how to solve the Rubik's cube (which some people can solve in ~10 seconds or so), I decided that I wanted to be able to solve it in 90 seconds or less consistently. With languages I shoot for being able to talk with someone and get my point across, no matter how many grammatical errors I make. I started learning how to memorize the order of a shuffled deck of cards, and stopped when I could do it in less time than someone's attention span would be for that sort of trick.
For violin, I decided that I just wanted to play one "real" piece poorly. By real piece, I mean something by a famous composer. I know that there are tons of great composers who aren't famous, but I liked the idea of playing something thought of by a genius like Mozart. I only wanted to play it poorly because I like the idea of playing every single day and chipping away at it, getting better and better. If I could just reach that baseline of playing it poorly, surely over a year or so I'd refine my sound and technique.
I went to Craigslist and emailed violin tutors, telling them that I wanted to learn one good song poorly, and that I could take lessons for about a month. One didn't write back. Another one told me that if HE was going to teach me violin, then it was going to be done his way, which was to learn fundamentals and build up to playing a real song. I didn't write him back. The third said, "great, I can help you with that," and became my teacher.
I took four lessons. In the first two, he taught me Musette by Bach, and in the second two he taught me Minuet in G by Mozart (Musette is a real song by my definition, but is too simple to be fun to play for a year, so we did the second song). Along the way, of course, he corrected my bow hold, posture, and a bunch of other things.
Now I love my little breaks from work. I sprint through Musette and then play Minuet in G really poorly. Every time through I'll play at least one passage decently, and it makes me smile. I quit my lessons, and my teacher understood why.
The point of all this isn't to provide a voyeuristic look into my violin playing, but rather to make a point. As long as you have ridiculously high goals for one or two things, it's okay to set really embarassingly low goals for other things. In fact, that helps you stay focused on your big goals.
SETT will be a world class blogging platform. It might take me years and come at the expense of most everything else, but I'll get it there. I have really high expectations of myself as a person, too, to be the best person that I can possibly be. But violin playing? I'll do it and enjoy it, but I'll be terrible at it.
Check out The Real Escape Game in San Francisco. I'll be doing it next week!