Six Strings and a Pick: How Playing Guitar Helped Me See The Risk of Plateau

Over the last year I have been playing regularly with the worship team of my church. This has been less out of some burning desire and more because of a need for a guitarist on the team. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy playing, however, I am not a big fan of playing (or singing for that matter) in front of people.

I have always wanted to play the guitar. My grandfather used to make guitars until he became ill and was unable to do so any longer. There were a couple of samples of guitars that he made in his home and I remember admiring them every time we went to Puerto Rico to visit. There is something about the sound a guitar makes that I just love.

Over the years I have played with moderate measures of satisfaction. I would pick it up for a few months and then quit. Then the urge would hit me again and I would work on developing those calluses again. That is always the toughest part, getting your fingers used to the strings. But, after about a week the focus shifts to playing rather than surviving each practice session.

This last go round I have been playing consistently three to four days a week for about an hour or two each time. That is a lot of playing. The reason I share this brief history is due to a conversation I had with the worship pastor of our church. We were talking, and as most good conversations go, we touched on a variety of subjects. As we talked we were discussing the reasons why people do things in life and the catalysts for growth in our individual journeys.

Then, it hit me. The reason I was getting better was not because I was playing more. This does contribute, but that was not a sufficient explanation. I realized that the longer we do something the easier it gets to do. However, to limit any improvement to time served, as it were, would be somewhat shorted sighted. There were two fundamental reasons I was getting better. First, I had to. Second, I wanted to.

Why did I have to? The needs of the worship team required a better guitarist. In order for that to happen, I had to play more and practice more. I had to learn Solfège, songs in two languages and work with two different worship teams because I was it. I had to get better otherwise the worship experience would have been more distracting than uplifting. This is as well and good.

The second reason that I was getting better was because I wanted to. This was the realization I had not considered or recognized until that conversation the other night. Now, this may sound silly, but I hope you understand why this was surprising to me, and should be to you as well. The better we get at something, the greater the desire to be challenged. I did not realize how valuable it was to be confronted with my own growth and realize that there is more to do, more areas where I can experience growth, more opportunities waiting to be explored. I am not going to be a recording artist or impress anyone. I am just trying to push myself a little further. I did not realize that the greatest motivation comes from within us, when we see that there is still untapped potential to be discovered.

What I have realized is that the better I get at anything I practice, the more I am confronted with the risk of plateau. We have to decide if we are satisfied with where we are. We may not even be satisfied with it, but we may be more afraid of changing what we have for something we do not fully know.

The bottom line is this, if you are satisfied with where you are, then stay there. No one is going to get you to move if you don’t want to. No one was pushing me to get better, they were just glad I was doing something. That just wasn’t enough for me anymore. If was fine at the beginning. But the more I played and the more things made sense, the more I began to understand. The more I wanted to improve. I wanted to become a better steward of my time and more effective in my practice. The more I played the more I wanted the play. And the more I wanted to play the better I wanted to be.

There are two question we all have to ask ourselves. They are these: 1.) How long is it going to take for me to realize there is more to learn? And 2.) How intently will I strive to learn it when I do?

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