It’s hard for me to relax. I’ll be reading a book and then hear my phone buzz and immediately check my email, seeing if there’s some urgent task that needs to be completed. Or I’m cooking dinner with one eye on my laptop to see if I’m missing any late-night IMs from coworkers. I check my email within seconds of my head lifting off my pillow in the morning. I have a notepad right beside my bed in case I wake up with any brilliant things to add to my to-do list. The notes app in my phone is a ridiculous hodgepodge of reminders to myself. As I re-read them, I’m not always confident about what I was even reminding myself to do. I’m constantly thinking about what to do next: should it be this first? Or prioritize that instead? I fall prey to my own love of organizational tools by keeping both an electronic and paper calendar AND an electronic and paper to-do list—and that doesn’t even take into account the millions of scribbled notes I have lying around. Do this! Don’t forget that! X due by X date!
Luckily I have a secret—a little escape for my brain and an outlet for my occasionally high-strung nerves. It’s hard for me to imagine that many years ago I was so serious (italics serious) about playing the flute. It was so serious that sometimes it stopped being fun. I saw it as an occasional adversary or something I had to conquer. Those were the better days. The worse days saw me angry at myself for my own incompetency or lack of skill. I wasn’t a music major in college and could afford to have a more relaxed attitude about the whole thing—which I think I did outwardly. Inside I was questioning whether I had the time or the skill to keep up with everyone else and did I even want to? I’d ask myself why I continued to play and sometimes couldn’t come up with an answer.
Now though? I think I see the payoff. I’m glad I didn’t fling the instrument into a deep, dark corner after I graduated—something I was really tempted to do. When I first started to really play on my own again, it seemed pointless after so many years of goal-oriented playing. There was no recital to prepare for, no concert coming up. There were no exercises to practice for an upcoming lesson or difficult passages to play over and over. What was the point of spending these hours playing by myself if it led to nothing? Why do it at all?
A few weeks later it suddenly occurred to me—it wasn’t the leading to something that I should be concerned with. That wasn’t the goal anymore. It was the fact that I was playing for an hour or more and during that time, I didn’t think about anything else except what was on the page in front of my face. I didn’t think about what might happen if I made a mistake, or if I hit the wrong note. I wasn’t thinking about my to-do list. I wasn’t thinking about the dishes needing to get done or the load of laundry I still hadn’t put away.
There are so very few things in life that have zero drawbacks and exist simply because they bring immense joy. A few years ago I wouldn’t have included playing the flute as one of those things. At the time, it was time-consuming, frustrating, competitive. But now it’s kind of like rediscovering an old friend that I fought with years ago and we have realized that we’d rather call a truce and just move forward. How many things in your life can you say bring you pure joy? How many things do you do just for you—and how many of those things do you not feel guilty about later? Everyone needs an outlet of some kind. A place where you can stop thinking about everything outside of that one task. Life is too short to be consumed with mental to-do lists all the time, and if I can’t flip a switch to turn it off, I think that tricking it by becoming consumed in something that brings me a lot of happiness is just as good. Maybe better.