So a retired person decides to set himself a challenge. He believes that stepping out of his own comfort zone would somehow prove character building and that by setting challenges or goals that will be the way to fill that gap he’s sometimes called the missing link and hence lead to a complete and fulfilling retirement. Surely the ambition of all retired persons. Well that’s the theory, the background to my signing up for a four (not five) day summer school in playing jazz, the one I wrote about in a recent blog. I just know that it is not going to be a surprise to any regular reader of these blogs if I tell you right up front that the theory did not match the reality. I could leave it at that but I probably owe it to my readers to put a little meat on the bone of that conclusion. In what way did this summer school fall short of my aspirations, as indeed it did? This is how I judged it.
As the week ground on I had time, while my compatriots were happily playing their solos, to consider the criteria against which I would judge the week. I asked myself what would a person retired or otherwise, look for in a four day course that cost me £220 and had been advertised as a workshop for all skill levels. Remember that, it’s relevant to my judgements. This, in no particular order, is what I came up with:
1.To learn more about the topic, playing jazz on guitar.
2.To experience a different and rewarding social situation.
3.To have fun.
4. To meet the challenge associated with stepping outside (way outside as it happened) one’s comfort zone.
I’ll give you my scores out of 10 first and then explain why I gave these numbers. My scores are 4,2,2,9. So the last one apart, pretty low, even disappointing, scores. And the reasons for these scores? The first and perhaps most important in many people’s views, if you pay money to attend a summer school then you expect to learn something and in my case this didn’t really happen. A combination of quite a large group (16, 17, I didn’t count them) and a lack of differentiation of the curriculum as we used to say in the old days. Mixed ability teaching is one of the most difficult challenges to learning and, in the case of this workshop, the bar was set too high for me. It’s fair enough because everybody else seemed to both understand what they were supposed to do and be capable of doing it, whereas yours truly, well…
I often used to say to teachers that they needed to put themselves in positions were they felt anxious and stupid to fully understand how the learning of their special needs children was being blocked by these negative emotions / thoughts. Lack of understanding, confidence, panic, low self-esteem go hand in hand with the expectation of failure. The old self-fulfilling prophecy, don’t you know. You don’t really get it until you’ve been there. I think probably our tutors haven’t been there. They were very talented musicians and when they were in teaching roles they were teaching equally talented individuals, so they knew what worked for them. But then they hadn’t met a doylem like me probably. So all in all not a good learning environment for me. I did learn some stuff and maybe if I can bear it, before the memory fades, and go back to all the music sheets, I might learn more but overall not efficient for me at the time. Hence the score.
All I can say of the social side well there wasn’t much and, worse still, for me a certain feeling of a lack of support or even on occasions something approaching hostility completely screwed with my confidence. You would probably say, you’re imagining it old chap and you may well be right but check out a previous blog for my view of the social dynamics of the situation. Maybe a bit more so because it was four consecutive days of 10 ‘til 5, so no hiding place. The fun score is inevitable given the previous two scores. It’s hard to have fun when you’re thinking OMG I can’t play this, give me a bit of time to run through it, a little practice and I’ll be fine, well, my version of fine, but no, get sheet which you’ve never seen before, put sheet on stand and off we go. A version of learning on the job. For some people a flying by seat of pants kind of fun, for me panic and fun do not go hand in hand. The words, “Peter have a blow for the next eight bars,” (i.e. take a solo) induce a but, but, but I’ve only just seen it. I don’t know a lot of jazz tunes as other members of the group obviously did, so ‘only just seen it’ is literally true. Well, you should listen to more jazz, you say. I know, my bad, another favourite saying of one of our very hip tutors.
Finally, to my highest score, meeting the challenge I had set myself. There’s no doubt I toughed it out and, as my family said, I should be proud of myself and in this context I was. There were quite a few times when I could have packed up my guitar, amp, music-stand (not easily done quickly) and rushed out the room screaming / crying. There were times when I felt like my head was going to explode, in fact it may have and I haven’t noticed. So a good score and the only thing that stopped it being a 10 was that I decided I could not face the Thursday night gig where we played our tunes before an audience. This never was my goal, my goal was to survive the 4 days which I did. Hats off as they say.
So there we are, was it worth it? Objectively, no it wasn’t, too much pain and not enough pleasure, a bit like the gardening business. In the context of this blog, which as you know is about retirement, the key question is probably, does it make sense (whatever that means) as a retired person, to set yourself difficult challenges in order to convince yourself that you are using this unique time of your life, to its fullest? Why not just kick back and enjoy your retirement? Not my style I suppose but what about other people, what’s their view?
PS. I have a friend who recently sailed down the west coast of Ireland, yes, you know who you are. I asked him to write me a blog about his adventure. Was this about setting challenges? Unfortunately he hasn’t, as yet, so we will never know. Still time old chum.