Nicole Dieker almost called this post “the distraction of fame.” But this isn’t really about fame. It’s about something even more important.
Ever since I played for L on Friday — no, ever since I started thinking about what it would take to become a magician-musician — I’ve become kinda mildly-moderately obsessed with the idea of entering the Van Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition.
This is a huge problem, and not just because there isn’t likely to be an opportunity for me to enter until at least 2023 — not that I would be ready to enter now, but the idea that I could enter at some point in the future, and the subsequent ideas regarding what I might play and what I might wear and what it might feel like to win have all become huge huge huge distractions.
It’s hard to focus on process if you’re daydreaming about results.
Or — which is often what we are really daydreaming about — the things that are associated with the results. The new dress, the giant bouquet waiting in the green room, and so on.
You might remember, if you are a long-term reader of this blog, that I once wrote a post about the idea of giving yourself the stuff associated with the results as quickly as possible, so you can get back to the process.
This was because I had started thinking to myself “when I am a famous writer, I’ll be able to work in an beautiful home office filled with plants,” and then I realized that I didn’t have to wait to buy plants.
I could have that part of the dream now, which would help me stop fantasizing about having it and get back to work.
This sounds like I am advocating the opposite of delayed gratification. Not precisely. What I’m saying is that if you are sitting at the piano, thinking “and on that day in 2023 or whenever it is, there will be an absolutely enormous bouquet of flowers waiting for me,” you should go to your local grocery store and drop $10 on the biggest bunch of flowers you can find.
Or the fancy (but still affordable) bottle of champagne, or the new (but still within your budget) dress, or whatever it is that you’re fixating on instead of the work in front of you.
Because when you actually get the results associated with the work you’re doing — not the consumer products, but the actual results — it won’t matter what you’re wearing.
It won’t matter if there are (or aren’t) a dozen roses.
The results are, and have always been, their own reward.
And I know this from experience, which means that as soon as I started thinking about things like “there will be flowers and I’ll get to dress up and talk to interesting people,” I had to stop and say to myself “Nicole, you need to buy yourself some flowers and then you need to put on an outfit you really like and invite some friends over to socially-distance around the fire pit.”
And then I got back to work.
There is another problem, and it’s that as soon as I decided I wanted to enter not only the Van Cliburn but all of the international amateur piano competitions, it would be an excellent way for L and I to tour the world — and notice how I am already focused on the stuff associated with the results, it’s obvious that part of what I want here is to go on vacation with L, and I’ve already done the work to put the most accessible, affordable version of that desire into reality (we explored a very small, very rural state park last Sunday).
As soon as I decided that it was within the realm of possibility to become the kind of pianist who won international amateur competitions, I realized that I needed to first become the kind of pianist who played local recitals.
Which means that part of my attention is now diverted towards the question “what work do I need to do this month to be ready to play a recital this fall?”
And this is related to, but slightly adjacent from, the two questions that were previously dominating my piano study:
- How do I become more efficient at solving problems?
- How do I increase the length of time during which I can focus on a problem without becoming distracted?
Adding a results-based question to these two process-based questions has already changed the way I practice, and I’m not sure it’s for the best.
But if I really do want to enter international piano competitions — which may still be adjacent from what I really want, which is to be recognized as a magician-musician-thinker-writer-teacher-polymath, even though I already wrote that “once you have attained that level of mastery in your own life, you won’t need outside recognition because you already know what you already have“ and I still stand by that statement — anyway, if I want to enter the Van Cliburn Amateur someday, I probably need to play a tri-state-area recital this fall.
Or, more specifically, L and I need to play a recital together. (BTW, L is ineligible for the Van Cliburn Amateur because he makes the majority of his income as a piano teacher — which doesn’t seem like a good reason for disqualification, but we don’t make the rules.)
And focusing on the kind of results-based work required to put on a recital might make it harder to focus on the process of becoming a better pianist.
I suppose it’s all about balance — or, at least, I hope it is.
I guess we’ll find out. ❤️