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Laurie Niles

'I can't do it!'

May 28, 2010 at 5:54 AM

"I stink at this!" said my nine-year-old son in exasperation, watching the red golf ball roll past the hole for the fifth time. "I can't do it!"

He was ready to quit after his super-frustrating miniature golf experience -- on the first hole of the course.

"Just keep with it, you'll get better," I said. "We all stink at it, the first time. You've never hit a golf ball with a club. You don't know how hard you have to hit it, or how lightly, or what angle it will go at when you hit it various ways. You just have to do it a bunch of times to get a feeling for that."

He was not convinced. As far as he was concerned, he was just a natural-born golf dolt and he might as well just quit right now. My boy's no-can-do attitude seemed almost ridiculous to me. I knew very well that he'd be more competent and feel more confident, even by the end of the game, if only he kept with it. But the point is that he could only see as far as his failed first attempts. He couldn't see those misses as the inevitable bumps on the road to proficiency.

I'm happy to say, though, that he persisted, and by the last hole of our mini-golf game, he certainly was getting a feel for it, he even hit a hole-in-one.

For the violinist, the whole journey is full of squeaky "first attempts." The frustration comes not only to the beginner, but also to the lifelong violinist. Trying new techniques can seem like venturing into territory where you just don't belong, whether your new technique is using the fourth finger, doing vibrato, or performing a run of 10ths in a Paganini Caprice.

"I stink at this!"

It's just not the best mantra.

"Patience, persistence, practice."

I like that one better.

From Sander Marcus
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 4:00 PM

The only time I ever said "I can't do it" to a violin teacher was when I was in college. During a lesson I had a particularly difficult passage we were working on, and I gave up. I said, "I can't do it." My teacher (bless his soul) became angry with me, held his two hands in front of my face, and told me to hold up my hands. I did. He said, "You've got the same two hands I do. If I can do it, you can do it." It is a lesson in life that I never forgot, because it applies not only to violin playing, but to virtually every other area of learning.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 4:04 PM

Aww, Laurie, what a sweet story! 

From Sari Beastall
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 8:07 PM

I feel like this on a regular basis. Luckily, I have a very good teacher who wont let me quit!

From John Allison
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 10:45 PM

Gee, Thanks Laurie.  Now you've taken all my excuses away!  ;)

From Mendy Smith
Posted on May 30, 2010 at 2:40 AM

"Nothing is impossible with enough time, energy and effort".  At least, that's what I keep telling myself :)

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on May 30, 2010 at 5:27 AM

I've had a couple of students like that.  It's always been a phase they go through.  When they get frustrated and say, "I can't do it," I say, "Yes, you can.  Give it a try."  After they've played it correctly, sometimes after several tries, I say, "See?  You thought you couldn't do it and you just did."  After a while, they stop saying, "I can't do it."

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 30, 2010 at 12:23 PM

 I like Pauline's and Laurie's approach better than when teachers get angry when someone expresses discouragement.  "Can't" is just a word.  You can get past it with a better mantra.  Anger at a word can just shut the whole process down.  

From Don McDaniel
Posted on May 30, 2010 at 5:24 PM

Anything worth doing well,

Is worth doing lousy in the beginning,

and enduring the trip--


Don't ya just hate that?

From Michael Divino
Posted on May 31, 2010 at 4:38 AM

Through hardship comes enlightenment.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on May 31, 2010 at 11:06 PM

My father used to say that to get anything worthwhile, you have to suffer first.  I never liked that.

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