The Discordant Key

November 17, 2008

There is a key to making a living by pursuing your passion. It’s a secret that has amazing and wondrous power. But it kind of sucks.

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”


It’s a soft joke with a lot of wisdom. I think about this idea in musical terms because I have a piano. I’ve owned it for years. I took a few piano lessons before I ever bought it. I owned an electronic keyboard and practiced on that before buying the piano. At one point I had methodically worked out the fingering for about three songs and could play them on my piano – only adequately – if I went slowly and tried to stay calm.

I would love to be able to play the piano well. But I don’t really want to practice very often. If I practiced with intensity and consistency, I would definitely get better. But the ongoing practice is the part that sucks, because I don’t want to learn to play the piano, I just want to play.

With any true passion, we enjoy learning and struggling and mastering new aspects. But we don’t start out being superb just because it’s our passion. We start out with a well of possibility and potential and the endurance to pursue while we’re crummy because it’s our passion.

I think this might be a better test for finding your true calling than most others I’ve come across. It’s not about what captivated you as a child, or what your ideal day would look like, or the dreams that powered you but got lost. It’s about what you can stand.

What is the thing that you are willing to suck at, to struggle with? What is so important to you that you will endure the frustration and embarrassment of being the novitiate, the freshman, the rookie, in order to do it? What do you want to do even when it’s tough, when you’re struggling to learn, and when you’re having a bad day and nothing seems to be going right?

Maybe the simplest question is this:

What do you want to do again and again, even though you’re doing it poorly, so you can get better at it?

I’m thinking that if you want to get competent, or even pretty good, at something, but then you’re willing to settle in and do it on autopilot, it’s not really your passion. I think if it’s your passion you’ll want to continue improving.

Coaching partially meets that test for me. I’m willing to learn new skills, to practice them, to spend time and energy preparing for a coaching session and then reviewing it afterwards, and to have feedback on my coaching. But I’m not so enthralled that I’ll go out looking for people to coach!

I had some of this passion for play therapy once a long time ago. There may be a season in my future when I return to study and practice play therapy again, if I can train with a true master and be in the company of people who are exceptionally good at play therapy. But not yet.

Writing seems to come from this kind of passion for me. Maybe if I pursue writing for money I’ll discover just how resilient that passion helps me be!

As for my other great interests, storycraft and filmmaking and audio documentaries… I haven’t let myself explore them enough to find out how strong the pull is.

I would certainly love to be able to play the piano well. But so far I don’t love piano playing so much that I’ll endure the struggle of learning it for very long. I don’t love learning it yet. Maybe that will change over time.

May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,

Steve Coxsey


One Response to “The Discordant Key”

  1. Darcy on November 19th, 2008 1:38 pm

    We have a piano, too, and it sits mostly untouched. I keep thinking that maybe if I get rid of the TV, I’d learn to play more than Little Birch Canoe or Busy Bee. I feel the way you’re describing about weaving. Oh, what I made stinks or could be better? No problem, learning opportunity!

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