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An Odd Pair of Four-Letter Words

Not profanity—I’m talking about powerful, positive four-letter words. The most obvious example of these is love. I doubt many would question that it qualifies. Love is what allows us to act kindly toward others and to care about things that are important to them.

What might be surprising is the second word in my pairing. It too, can be a good and potent four-letter word, but we don’t often think of something as good when it is inherently difficult, or frustrating, or—to put it into four letters—hard.

So often I hear students describe an assignment as hard, or worse, too hard. It isn’t their perception of the assignment as a challenge that bothers me, that is as it should be. It is the implied part of the statement that follows it’s hard that tends to get in our way. It is the conclusion that because something is hard, it is to be avoided. We expect that we naturally won’t want to do it, and we certainly shouldn’t have to do it!

It isn’t laziness that has us thinking this way, it is training. Since the earliest days of advertising, the word easy has been an effective marketing tool. We have been inculcated with the notion that easier is better. It makes advertisers rich, but they do not have our best interests at heart. I believe we are misled to our detriment the moment we buy into the idea.

Think instead of hard as meaning challenging. Isn’t challenge the thing that makes sports and video games fun? Doesn’t it take persistent practice to become adept at either? When a game is too easy, isn’t it boring? Of course, attempting things that are far too difficult for us can lead to disappointment and even self-recrimination. That’s where a little guidance proves valuable, so seek it.

When a student tells me a piece I’ve assigned is hard, I say, Oh, good! We have a challenge! (At which point I often see a flash of, is she crazy?) If a student tells me his piece is too hard, I ask him to trust me. I think he can do it. I could be mistaken, but why don’t we try? What if I’m right?

So, why do I pair love with hard?

Love is our best motivation. We do not have limitless time and energy, and not everything is important. We must decide for ourselves which endeavors are worthy of our effort. The ones we love, the ones worth working hard on, with determination, with patience, with tenacity, are the ones with the greatest rewards: not candy or prize money, but a sense of personal accomplishment. From there, we nourish our self-respect.

Getting to know each individual student and finding those pathways through which I can best reach him or her is what holds my fascination as a teacher. There is no end to variety in human personality. I will listen when she says it is hard. I will listen, and consider, and do my best to encourage a healthy challenge. We use a new vocabulary in which I can’t! is banished and replaced with phrases like, I’m still working, or I’m having difficulty, or I’m making progress.

If there are tears along the way, if there is frustration and renewed determination, and then progress, but then obstacles, and perhaps exhaustion, but then new commitment, then that all is good, because those prizes hard won are most valued, and the skills being cultivated will serve throughout a lifetime.

Not only does a challenge conquered create a powerful reward, but it lays the groundwork for faith in our ability to tackle the next challenge. Each time we do, we reinforce skills necessary to the task as well as belief in our possibilities. At Blossom Music School, ours is a safe place to try. It is a place of guidance and support. It is a place of love. It is a place where we learn how good hard can be.

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