When I was in college I had a good friend who was very tall with sandy brown hair and a delightfully dry sense of humor. Like most of my college friends, he was a musician. He played trombone, and was probably the best trombone player at BYU. His name was Ryan, and he was such a great musician that, when I knew him, he was getting invited to solo with symphony orchestras around the country. I felt honored to be his friend.
One day he took me aside and asked if I would help him prepare for the solo he was about to perform with the Denver Symphony Orchestra.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked.
“I need you to try to distract me,” he said.
I gave him my best evil smile.
So one evening we met at a practice room (fyi, practice rooms are teeny-tiny) and he said, “After I start my solo, and I want you to do anything you can to get me to make a mistake.”
This is too easy, I thought.
He began his solo.
My first object would have been to cover up his music, but of course, he had it memorized.
So I waved my hands in front of his face . . . but he closed his eyes.
I strobed the lights on and off. . . .he played on.
I banged on the piano, I clapped my hands, whistled, I sang in his ear, I blew in his ear, I even sprayed him with a spray bottle . . . I did everything I could think of (within reason and decorum) to take his attention away from his music, but he did not even flinch.
After a cycling through these same things several times I finally ran out of ideas so I sat down, defeated.
When he finished he flashed a triumphant smile. He had not missed a note.
Although I didn’t get to see him perform in Colorado, I’m sure that if the chandelier had fallen, the emergency sprinkler system had gone off, or if the conductor had decided loosen his tie and leap out into the audience mosh-pit style, Ryan would have continued on, unaffected, and given a flawless performance.
I will never forget that experience. I will never forget the frustration of getting someone’s attention who is completely committed to his task.
For me, being a music major was just fun. But for many of my classmates being a music major was how they were planning on putting bread on the table. Hence the reason why they excelled, and I eventually changed my major to something else.
The desire to excel in music was so important to Ryan that he dedicated hours to not just learning his pieces, and not just memorizing them, but being able to play them no matter the distraction. As the saying goes, “don’t practice until you can get it right, practice until you never miss.”
Ryan married my cousin’s wife’s sister, so luckily I can still keep tabs on him. He played trombone in the Air Force Band of the Golden West and then become a chaplain. Now he is a chaplain in the Navy and is going to be deployed this May for six months on the USS Mercy, a humanitarian ship. He still performs often.
So what did I become? I became what I wanted to be: a mom. Just a mom, folks. I didn’t want to be an airline pilot or a doctor or a lawyer or even a musician. I’ve only ever wanted to be a mom. And here I am, living my dream.
And yet, I am so distracted. I have church stuff, school stuff, writing stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff that could fill up and does fill up every moment of my day. I don’t feel productive unless I am doing several things at once. My great weakness is that I am the kind of person who likes to be good at everything. Must accomplish. Must succeed.
But sometimes being excellent at everything really just means being excellent at nothing. And when I fall short I get down . . . I am a mediocre pianist, a mediocre singer, a mediocre writer, a mediocre friend, a mediocre everything.
I’m sure no one else has ever felt this way.
The other day I went to the park with my two-year-old. We were only going to be there for 15 minutes. As always, I had the choice of having him play while I got “important stuff” done on my phone or I could focus my attention on him.
But then that experience with Ryan popped into my head, and I thought about his ability to concentrate on the one thing that was most meaningful to him, regardless of all the other tempting, enticing, or annoying distractions around him.
And the most meaningful thing to me at that moment was (and is!) my two-year-old boy. A two-year-old boy that won’t be two for very long. So I deserted my phone and my text messages and my fb feed and all that other blah, blah, blah that can wait, and that probably isn’t that important anyway, and would lead me down the slope of feeling even more mediocre.
And we just played.
I don’t want to live in my phone.
Whatever you decide to do, do it well.