On Monday, my friend asked me to teach him how to sing. I’m grateful he did.
Tom’s request led me to a podcast, Sing Better Fast. It was a slow week at work; I listened to it in the quiet times in my office. The show is hosted by two men: one of them is a dedicated athlete; the other can shatter crystal with his voice. This grows important – this podcast is not just for singers.
The very first episode is a twenty-five-minute philosophical inquiry into the disposition of humanity – if you listen to it at 1.5x speed, as I do, it’s even shorter. In it, they classify the world into two populations: those who believe the can’t, so they don’t; and those who believe they can, so they do. It was a healthy kick in the butt – a pep talk worth repeating. I found myself almost insulted, but fully engaged. I tend to surrender to the winter doldrums – I have fallen into the I can’t, so I won’t camp. I’m emerging from them now. I listened to six episodes in succession on my first day.
If you do nothing more, I recommend you pull up this podcast and listen to episodes 1, 2, 6, 9, and 10. You can even listen to them slowly, one by one. They are general enough to apply to any endeavor, and they are compellingly done. I found myself taking notes. I found myself altering my attitudes and behaviors because of them. I even found myself in a bit of a quandary, trying to pursue multiple unfinished objectives at the same time; these podcasts agitated me, unsettled my psyche. I’m learning to further focus and layer my time. I will give these episodes another listen, maybe even a third.
The truth is, it’s too easy to be lulled into an easy complacency in this fast-paced and wireless world. It’s too simple to Netflix and chill at the end of a long workday, frittering the evening hours away, day after day. We’ve done enough, we say; I’m out of juice, okay? But to settle so easily is to accept that we’ll never account to anything more. We are watching Huxley’s feelies, consuming his soma. It’s a soullessly productive existence. This should be discomfiting: life’s not meant to be lived without soul. That’s not life; that’s shallow survival. We’re all better than that.
I find myself renewed in several pursuits. I find my yoga practice deepening. I find my writing improving. I find myself reading more than I have in years. I’m re-training my voice to sing too. Try sustaining lip bubbles – purse your lips together and blow a raspberry. It’s hard, right? Now try to reduce your airflow as you do it. Give it pitch. Change the pitch. Keep trying. This is a basic singer’s drill – not easy, right? I now have greater justification to sing in the shower!
This is what they call an attitude of incremental refinement. The pursuit of mastery demands an attitude of incremental refinement. A master never rests content in his achievement; he presses on in the pursuit of greater knowledge and comprehension. Mastery requires neither conceit or arrogance, but rather a humility and a willingness to ask questions, to learn from others. Humility is fundamental to lasting success.
What I think I admire most about these guys is that they stress accepting yourself where you are, then working from that baseline. You can’t deliberately grow if you don’t deliberately and honestly assess where you are. Many of us have delayed starting projects that matter to us because we lack the self confidence to do so; there’s no time; or we lack the support to start. Self-doubt squashes big dreams. I’m no saint here – I have a laundry list of projects I’d like to work through but haven’t, though the means are at my disposal. I’ve owned a guitar for four years. I’ve never really played it. I’ve fallen into the ‘others can’t, so I can’t’ mentality more than I care to admit.
I’m not advocating that we cut our pleasures to pursue our dreams. I’m suggesting that maybe we use Netflix as a reward rather than a medication. Maybe that means that we read for half an hour before we tune in to our favorite show. Maybe that means we go for a walk to unwind. Maybe that means that we set specific hours for sleep and stick to them.
I bought Raise your Voice, Jaime Vendera’s book. I found it on Half-Priced Books for half of what it costs on Amazon. I’m excited to work through it. I’m excited to grow a life-sustaining passion into something profitable. I will teach Tom how to sing, and in the process, I’ll deepen my own understanding of an art that has long buoyed my spirits.
Growing up, I watched a lot of Malcolm in the Middle – as a family of four boys, we could relate to Francis, Reese, Malcolm, and Dewie. Malcolm once quipped ‘You want to know the best part about childhood? At some point, it stops.’ It was the line of an exasperated kid, and it was funny. Many people feel the same way about school. I think the best part about school, though, is that it can teach you how to learn on your own. Learning for your own sake is a joy. Joy is a deeper emotion than happiness; it is a state of being that transcends the ups and downs of daily life.
Practice what you love. Practice it again and again and again. Every master was once a beginner, and every master has wrestled with his own demons. We are all mere mortals. With discipline, mere mortals can achieve greatness.
Listen to this podcast.