Play to Your Strengths–Literally–to Feel Self-Mastery and Fulfillment

I advocate playing to your strengths instead of compensating for weaknesses as a way of creating self-mastery and empowerment in your life.  Helping my clients to recognize and use their strengths is one of the hallmarks of my coaching and my teaching. Recently, I had this very experience in a domain that is near and dear to my heart-my piano playing.

This winter, I achieved a long-time goal:  I learned and performed Feux d’Artifices by Claude Debussy, his last prelude.  This is a piece that I never thought I could play but with the encouragement of my piano teacher, not only was I was to learn it but I also performed it. It felt amazing to be playing this gorgeous piece and despite the technical challenges, to deliver an authentic, deeply satisfying and quite beautiful performance.

With that accomplishment under my belt, I decided that I was ready to take on another life-long challenge:  Chopin’s Ballade No. 3.   Was I in for a surprise! While those difficult passages in the Debussy piece were simply a matter of breaking them down and learning them progressively, the Chopin eluded me.  I felt like Sisyphus:  no sooner did I learn a passage than it slipped out my fingers it unless I practiced it daily and in a very technical, rigorous way.  Otherwise, I had to start over at the bottom of the proverbial hill. 

Needless to say, this was not very satisfying, particularly since I am extremely busy and I play the piano in order to experience creative renewal and flow!  I found myself dreading the piano and pretty much stopped playing for 2 months.  With the helpful insights of my piano teacher, I understood that learning Chopin is very different and requires a completely different approach—one that did not tap into my natural talents.

Wait!  Natural talents, as in Strengths!  This is something I think about a lot!

No wonder I loved the Debussy:  it is ideally suited both to my hands and to my personality and it brought out the best in me.  The Chopin, on the other hand, was an uphill struggle because I had to compensate for a number of technical weaknesses.  With that insight, I decided to forego the pleasure of learning the Chopin right now and switch to playing pieces that are a more natural fit. 

Lesson learned:  playing to your strengths is a lot easier and much more satisfying to me.  How about you?