A post by my daughter Lily Holmes (who I call LB)
The constant impending doom of a pandemic and out-of-control political climate do not lend themselves kindly to healthy coping mechanisms. I am personally a big fan of eating my feelings. However, as more time has passed, I have acquired more positive habits.
Institutionalized learning has always come relatively easy to me. I loved reading as a child and had the correct brain chemistry to make me good at tests. I went to a small, rural school which failed to challenge me. That’s not really a brag, but more of a testament to how frightfully under-funded and under-resourced rural schools are. Nevertheless, an unfortunate side effect of being told you are so smart when you’re little is that when you grow up, you give up easily.
Some call this “gifted child syndrome,” where this lack of challenge and constant building up of worth based on intellect leads to a complex that new things should come easy. If they don’t, well, they must just be impossible.
I have a relatively consistent routine of trying to learn something challenging: becoming interested, obsessing, failing a couple times, becoming convinced I am just awful, feeling bad about myself, putting the thing away and never touching it again.
Rinse and repeat. I am very self-conscious of ever failing in front of anyone because I was subconsciously taught that my intelligence was an inherent character trait instead of just an asset. In fact, even a tiny lighthearted joke can cause a very emotional, child-like reaction in me. My face flushes and I want to run and hide under my covers and cry. This isn’t something I’m necessarily proud of, but I’m not ashamed of it either. I want to tell the little kid inside of me that it’s okay to fail – so that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.
About two months ago, I decided I wanted to learn guitar. I downloaded an app and started practicing. I got frustrated at the slow start – I wanted to be able to play songs immediately – but forced myself to keep going. I became aware of this habit to give up on new skills when things get hard and was determined to do something about it. The app only allowed for one free lesson a day, which while annoying ended up being perfect for me. Accompanying my easy frustration is a slightly obsessive personality that tends to lead to burn out, so this kept me from that escalating frustration.
After 3 weeks, I noticed something. One day, while feeling particularly anxious, I felt the urge to go practice guitar which made me felt better. This was unprecedented. Although I do sometimes find challenge rewarding (if it’s not too challenging), I had never felt better because of it. It was more of a stressful “this has to be done, so let’s do it” and feeling relief and pride once it was done. This was a completely optional challenge, and it was making me feel more relaxed than before. I recorded a little video of me struggling through fingerpicking an old Irish folk song and posted it to my Instagram story, concluding that:
“It’s only been like 3 weeks so… I know it doesn’t sound good but I’m ok with that cause it sounds better than it did 3 days ago when I couldn’t finger pick damn near anything.”
I hadn’t even attempted fingerpicking in the prior weeks because I was convinced my hands were just too small to do it. Here I was, 3 days later doing the thing I thought would simply not be possible for me. Take that, me.
During this ongoing process of learning guitar, and thanks to a partner who encourages me, I’ve finally found a way to enjoy being bad at something. I’ve been thinking that maybe I don’t have to be perfect at something to share it with others – or even just enjoy it myself.
Maybe I can accept where I am and simply find pride at where I am 3 days from now.
Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and the soon-to-be released Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary and Too Many Podcasters podcasts. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply!