A lot of people dream they can find happiness by starting over.
For many of us, the opportunity to start over may be elusive, always lurking somewhere just over the horizon. And sometimes the nearer you get, the farther away it seems to be.
A few years ago, I found a way to start over — by connecting to a passion I had years ago. In my case, it was returning to music, which I had studied extensively when I was young. My return to music was, of course, based on skills I had developed in those early years — but as an adult I was more motivated, and more skillful in terms of knowing what I still needed to learn.
As a youth, music had been immensely rewarding for me, but it also required an incredible amount of work, and there had also been lots of pressure and anxiety. On the flip side, as an adult going back into music, my youthful learning served as a wind in my sails. I was able to make choices that led to truly joyful musical experiences.
In this article, I’ve tried to distill some of what worked for me during my “Coming home to music” as an adult. And I’ll present them here as suggestions. I’m sure that if you studied art or dance or music when you were young, you’ll see some parallels.
I shared a lot of what I learned in a feature film I made with some fellow musicians, and we’ve made the film available to Project Happiness subscribers online here https://playitagain.film/happiness
1. Set your motivation
First, identify a skill or an interest you had in the past - something for which you have a warm spot in your heart. Something that was rewarding. Something where you achieved some level of success that you might be able to build on again. Don’t worry about your skills being “rusty”- instead focus on how good it will feel to rekindle them! Pick something you used to love, and know you can enjoy again.
2. Envision how you’ll feel
Once you’ve decided what skill you want to awaken, expand your mind to envision how you might use that skill in your future. Were you a dancer? Then maybe you’re thinking you’d like a little more exercise. Were you an artist? Perhaps you want to take up photography again and frame some prints. Were you a musician? Want to pick up a guitar and play or sing? Maybe you want to play the piano again?
3. Set a first goal
Set a first exploratory goal. Pick something you’re pretty sure you can achieve. Focus on something that’s a logical first step. For example, if you’re going back to piano, start with scales or simple melodies and warm-ups to get your hands and brain working together again.
4. Make a plan
Lay down a plan. Use words; use numbers; sketch or diagrams. Outline the sequence of events, learning or practice you might want to follow to achieve your goals.
5. Find resources
Look for learning resources. Identify online video that can teach you (or refresh your knowledge or skills). Find a book. Or find a friend who knows the skill and can coach you.
6. Design and enlist your support systems
Some people like to have a buddy (or even a group) to sustain them. Maybe this is your family - or maybe it shouldn’t be your family. If you do this with your friends, set some ground rules - stay positive; be realistic; be kind. And be kind to yourself by biting off only as much as you can handle. There’s no rush.
7. Do an honest evaluation
Make a plan to evaluate your success. Be honest in your own evaluations, yet don’t be harsh. Always look for things you did well, as well as things you’d like to improve in your next round of goals.
8. Measure and enjoy your progress
Set a timetable, but don’t be rigid about it. Be relaxed, but don’t procrastinate. When time’s up, take a look at whatever you’ve done. If you didn’t hit your goal, it might be because the goal was too ambitious, but also it could be because it just wasn’t the right goal or skill for you. Find the positives in what you were able to accomplish. Can you use those as starters to get you to your next goal? Stay positive. (But I’ve said that.)
There may be a tendency to be critical and focus too much on failures, but instead I urge you to find satisfaction in what you are able to accomplish. Remember, you are now the adult in the room and you deserve to just relax and enjoy what you’re able to accomplish.
(Might end here?) YES!
I was lucky that I was at retirement age and could take a year “off” from work, and I had a world class music conservatory nearby. But even without that, I would have studied online, or taken lessons and classes from our community music center. Once my eyes were open about what I wanted to learn, and once I set my initial goals, it became a matter of putting in the time to learn and practice. It was real work — a full time “job.” I quickly discovered I was fascinated by writing music for film (not for the concert stage) and I scored and recorded soundtrack music for a half dozen indie (independent) films in the five years after my year of concentrated study. That happened because of people I met, and connections I formed, while studying. My advice to myself was “Do the work; Be prepared; and then show up at the right time.” You can’t always guess when the “right time” (or place) will be, so you have to constantly be in touch with people, plugged in to your community, interested, interesting, and persistent.