Work Smarter, NOT Harder ---136

There are many ways to approach a task. Many of you may have heard of the saying “work smarter, not harder”. However, that’s just another way of saying “It isn’t what you do, but how you do it” and that saying has brought me back to a memory of mine.

When I went to college, I wanted to continue studying and playing my violin. I had started at 5 years old and it was a passion that  I, to this day, still have. The violin teacher assigned to my college was a legend. Roy Malan. I will never forget him. He is the kindest teacher with a charming British accent and was what I would call a British gentleman. He never used a mean word and you would practice because his kindness would make you feel guilty if you didn’t. However, he was also a well-known man. There was a famous violinist called Efrem Zimbalist and he only took four students in his lifetime. My teacher was one of them and he is the first and only concertmaster for the San Francisco Orchestra. He has since retired from that position but my memory is of my third lesson with him. I was trying to play a difficult piece and I was struggling over and over with it. I was rushing it and trying to play it in its entirety and getting frustrated every time I hit a wrong note. I had broken my left wrist due to a snowboarding accident and couldn't play for 4 years, but I was told by the music department that I was good enough when I auditioned, so I didn’t understand why after a week of practice I still couldn’t get it right. I was slightly panicking because we had a music jury and if I didn’t pass, they could kick me out of being a music/theater major. It was weighing down on me so much that my fiancé was getting worried as I seemed to obsess over this one little thing .Growing up with a piano teacher, my mom has always said “Playing it once correctly is luck. Playing it 5 times correctly is skill.” So I was trying to prove that I had skill because I wanted to impress Roy and let him know that I could pass the music jury. Keep in mind that my parents had met Roy and really wanted me to show him that I could be a good student and do what he asked of me. Unfortunately, that was not what happened and at one point I nearly broke my violin due to my frustrations. Roy, who was sitting silently and watching, began to play the part that was making me frustrated. He played it beautifully and I felt defeated as if I let my parents, him, and myself down. After crying my frustrations and my feelings out to him, he then said “You come from a wealthy and loving family and you aren’t letting them down. This is a difficult piece that I am only assigning to one student which is you because I know you can do it. You also have the most expensive and beautiful violin I’ve ever seen. But you are not practicing how you should.” He wanted me to realize that I had almost everything anybody would ever need. After a brief pause to let his last sentence sink in, he then continued “I told you that whenever somebody asks, you should never say you are just a violinist, but you should say you are a classically trained violinist. You don’t always practice like one though. I have been to one of your performances and you have so much potential. But, if you do not practice it how you should, you will never get there even if you do practice every day.” Therefore, he was saying that violin wasn’t just what I do, but what mattered was how I practiced playing my violin. If I never adjusted how I practiced and kept just practicing how I used to because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do, I would have never passed the music jury. Instead of rushing through the piece, I played that part over and over again until I could play it without looking. The music jury day arrived, his wife accompanied me, and I actually received a standing ovation from the head of the music department, Roy, and 50 other music graduates. I passed it with flying colors. 

Since that day, I have taken that saying to heart. Although I stopped taking lessons from Roy because he decided that I was good enough to no longer need a teacher, at his last performance with the Nutcracker, he gave me his violin strings, his resin, and a signed violin bow which I have actually kept in a safe place to serve as a reminder. I no longer just do something because it has to be done, but I try to find the most efficient and effective way to do it. It’s like studying-you can read a book all day, but if you couldn’t make the material stick, perhaps you should find another way. For example, perhaps you are an auditory learner and therefore, if you recorded yourself saying the lecture and played it back to yourself while you slept, maybe that would make the material stick. It really isn’t about what you do, but how you do it that makes a difference between the ordinary and extraordinary. Everybody has different tasks that they need to do such as studying for a test, preparing for a music jury, or just simply going running. If we take a moment to stand back and think about our approaching strategies, we can save time and effort and accomplish those things with a much better result.

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