Let me write a more cheerful retirement blog after the last little cup of poison. I’ll revisit one of my favourite retirement blog themes – continued learning, life-long learning, call it what you will. Regular readers of this blog will know that it is one of my most-revered retirement values and hence I continue to try and integrate into my retirement life any kind of learning activities that I can, anything from reading non-fiction books about the history of London and Crossrail, British culture and the last one I reported on in a previous blog, how things become popular. I’d only read to page 149 the last time I mentioned this book and said I would let you know how the remaining pages turned out. Let me say, in the context of this blog about learning, that I did not learn very much about how to make my blog popular so sorry to all those of you hoping to discover the secrets of blog popularity.
What has worked out well is my latest attempt to broaden my knowledge, dare I say, develop my skill level, of playing jazz. In previous blogs about the topic you will perhaps remember that the learning process has involved quite a high level of pain, embarrassment and a lowering of my self-esteem rather than the anticipated raising of it in that I was setting myself challenges even if I wasn’t always achieving them. My previous efforts were based on playing jazz guitar, a lack of understanding of the notes higher up the neck cramped my ability to play what was written on the sheet and more recently the fact that I seem to be developing arthritis in my fingers isn’t helping either. I think it’s arthritis but I need to go and get it checked. Anyway the point is that after a little bit of experience playing jazz piano at a jazz improvisation weekend, I decided to sign up for a 10 week jazz piano evening class. I referred to it briefly in a previous learning blog. The course is now finished so this should be a good time to report on how this particular learning experience worked out.
As is mostly / often the case with my retirement challenges, the whole thing was quite weird but, in this case, not in a bad way. The thing is I’m a better piano player than I am guitar player and the pains in my fingers hurt far less and are far less restricting with the sideways movement involved in playing the piano than the bending / contracting movements required for forming chords on the guitar. In addition, it’s much easier for me to work out where the notes are on the piano keyboard than on the guitar neck. If a chord on the lead sheet has a flattened 9th and a sharp 11, I can see where they are and even, mostly, make my fingers fit that shape. I hope I’m not boring you but there is a point to all this minutiae and that point is that over the 10 week course I haven’t learned very much that I didn’t know already. I’m not trying to big myself up in stating this, it’s purely to make the point that these 10 weeks have been a great deal less painful psychologically, emotionally than the Monday night classes I have written about in the past.
So here’s the question, what’s the best thing to do if you’re a retired person? Do you push yourself to your limit, setting challenges that turn out to be stressful at best and unachievable and self-esteem reducing at worst, or do you say to yourself, hey, I’m a retired person I’ve earned the right to take it easy and that includes any leisure / learning activities I might undertake? Or… does the very fact that a lot of retirement probably means you’re taking it easy as a kind of default setting (yes, I hear the laughter from some of you at this point), mean you should use the learning part of it or similar, as an opportunity to set those difficult challenges?
I know the goal-setting literature is pretty clear on the topic of success and achievement, it says something like only set goals that are achievable, it says a lot of other things as well but in the context of this blog, the books say set goals that are just a bit above your current performance level and in this way you’re more likely to achieve the goal and hence move on up to the next level, to take the next small step, rather than shuffling the whole enterprise into the too-hard basket. Which is what often, nearly happened with me and my Monday night classes and in fact ultimately what did happen. So having experienced both I should be in a very good position to choose the better option and, having just finished the 10 week course on which I enjoyed the experience and my tutor’s somewhat laid back style of teaching, but didn’t learn a lot, I am going for this option. True it’s not in the no pain, no gain school of life but after my earlier pain, I think that suits me quite well.
But here’s the thing and what a thing it is, after all I’ve written in this blog and others about the pain of the Monday night class, there is a small thought in my brain that perhaps, just perhaps, I might go back to it but this time as a piano player rather than a guitar player. Will my slightly superior piano playing skills get me through and, just let me say at this point, I’m not suggesting I’m concert standard as a piano player, just slightly better, so I won’t have a very thick suit of armour as protection against self-esteem damage. Will I get by, even enjoy the experience or will my extreme sensitivity be once again exposed by the harsh (imagined) words of my fellow workshop players. At this point I really couldn’t predict which decision I will make, all I will say is that if I weren’t retired I would not be in this position, I would not have the ‘luxury’ of deciding how to use my precious time, I’d be out there earning a living to support my extravagant lifestyle. Ahh, retirement, what a wonderful thing.