Da da da da da da da HONK da da da da da HONK da. “Darn!” That’s what my clarinet practicing often sounded like. I started playing the clarinet in 6th grade, and with 4 years of piano behind me, one would have thought that I would have an advantage over my peers who had never been exposed to music. One would have thought so quite incorrectly.
It’s not that I was awful, but I definitely wasn’t what one would have called good. In high school, when we started playing for seats, I (except for one year when I had to try out while battling mononucleosis and ended up at the bottom) always landed in the middle, often right in the very middle.
It wasn’t a comfortable place for me to be. I was that kid who brought home a 97 upset about the 3 points that I had missed. I liked to be good at things, and I wasn’t good at this. No matter how much time and effort I put into it, I was never going to be a great clarinet player. I could see that the kids who were at the top had a way of playing that seemed as effortless as breathing. I know they spent a lot of time working on their skill, but I could tell that there was a natural talent there that I just didn’t possess.
But I stuck with it, mostly because my parents wouldn’t let me quit. I played that thing until my graduation from high school.
And I’m glad I did. I learned a lot of things from being in the band, like: showing up early is almost always the right thing to do
being overdressed is better than being underdressed
winning with a team is more fun than winning by yourself
if you don’t want to be stressed, become a short order cook
But even more than all of those little life lessons, I learned this one really big important one: being mediocre at something is alright. I didn’t have to be great at everything. I could still choose to do something, even if I wasn’t the best.
It’s served me well. I have to do all sorts of things that I am not really that good at all the time! I am notorious (at least with my husband) for forgetting one ingredient but buying everything else for a meal. I am a runner with asthma (read: slow and inconsistent). I have a really awful memory about events (give me numbers!), but I plan them. I am an introvert with a public ministry.
To be sure, I am very blessed to spend most of my time doing things for which I have a natural talent: being in relationship with and teaching kids, communicating ideas and information, providing a listening ear for parents, organizing people and things, etc.
But I’m not ashamed of being really mediocre at those other things that I have to do, and I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself to get really good at them, because I think that that is mostly a waste of time.
And I know that from experience, but I also know it because of the first two questions in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which are posted on my desk, and which I see every day:
Who are you? I am a child of God.
What is the chief end of humankind? To glorify God and enjoy him forever.
And because of these two truths, I am allowed to be mediocre at some things and great at others. Because we are all naturally gifted to glorify God, whether we do it by playing the clarinet or loving on little ones.