Any form of skills takes time, patience and discipline. I often draw comparisons between professional musicians to professional athletes, on their similarities in the hours of practicing their craft, the patience needed to hone their skills and the sheer willpower, determination and persistence needed to break through the physical and mental barriers in spite of any setbacks they will encounter. I say "will" encounter, for the path to realise a dream, a goal or success, will inevitably have the unevenness to cause us to stumble, fall and break..., in order for us to pick ourselves back up. For what? What is it that we are picking ourselves up for? To continue moving forward, continue to discover our capabilities, explore our limitations, and to our own paths.
During my difficult transition in deciding to quit dentistry, I lost my friendship with my dental colleagues whom I considered at that stage, my friends. Many of them did not wish to be at the dental school: many had dreams of being a writer, an artist, a musician, an accountant, a doctor, an engineer...only a handful actually wanted to be there. I was too young and inexperienced to realise what and why the friendships ended, although in hindsight, it may be because I broke away from the group mentality of "I can't do what I want to do anymore because I'm now doing this" that there was a severed connection between our ways of thinking.
"I was told, I should not consider ever playing the piano again."
I remembered it was a dark and lonely time, but was grateful in that my closest friends really encouraged me and gave me the support I needed. I was unsure why I didn't want to be a dentist,
only that I knew it didn't feel right, and that there were bigger things I needed to go for. However, the answers were unclear, for the path didn't show me where exactly it led. I did my best as I could at the time, and looked for piano teachers who would help get me back on track to prepare for the upcoming audition at the Music Conservatory.
During this time of searching, I came across this lady who really made an impact on my young, impressionable mind. I was excited by the fact that I had, for what I thought at that time was, found a teacher who would enable me to start my music journey again. Our first meeting was joyous, I played for her, she said I was very promising and that she would like to have me on as her student. In fact, she added, she will enquire for me on how I can apply for the music school she recommended. However, the day after our first meeting, I received a phone call from her saying the complete opposite: that I was not talented enough, nor young enough for any music institution to consider me as a student. I was told, that I will be a waste of time, effort and energy for any teacher to instruct me. I was told, I should not consider ever playing the piano again.
I was 23 at that time, and I was devastated and hurt by her words. But little did she know, her negativity propelled me to work harder, to strive higher. I was humbled by the fact that later, I met a fantastic piano teacher, a model human being, who helped
"Setbacks are there to question our intentions in life."
me polish my techniques enough for me to be accepted into the Conservatory, and the tears of gratitude I had the moment I received a letter from the institution that I was also a recipient of a scholarship. That was all I wanted - the recognition that I belonged to continue learning music, that maybe one day, I can create a path with music as my contribution to bettering the world.
Setbacks are difficult, whether or not it may be from our studies, careers, relationships, or in life. But it's there, to mark our lives with memories and learnings to make us grow wiser, strengthen our weaknesses and question our intentions in life. We may not hear it from others about their setbacks, the seemingly intact, "successful" images of the shiny businesses or corporations; it may not be considered "fiscal" for large bodies of businesses to discuss, or reveal, any failures in our fast-paced, the all-consuming, capitalist world.
On the other hand, it is inspiring to know about them: how Richard Branson ignored the verbal and economic setbacks in his path of entrepreneurship, the racially symbolic presidency of Barack Obama in our generation since the times of black slavery, the lengths of social and political advancement by Nelson Mandala and Aung San Suu Kyi despite their incarcerations, and the young and inspiring Malala Yousafzai to overcome the unstable socio-political environment in her country to stand for her beliefs and pave a way for others.
These are just a handful of people who are unafraid of their setbacks and to use them to propel their journeys and inspire others along the way. There are many other stories of inspiration that illustrate the beauty of the human willpower. Success is built from mistakes, setbacks, harsh words, moments of vulnerability and doubt, near deaths, illnesses, loss, grief...you name it. It may seem "pointless" now to practice a skill - how insignificant it may feel right now, questioning why "would I spend my time in a room just to practice?" or "why do I wake up so early just to train?". Like the plant that grow between the cracks in the concrete and batter the rain and storm, don't give up. Our hard-work today, will be a beacon of light for others tomorrow.
From what I've experienced in life so far, I've learnt that at the end of the day, it really comes down to for what, and why, we are practising the skills we have chosen. Everyday that passes, we shape the reasons for the path we have chosen not to follow and to instead, create our very own.
- Natasha Lin