Yo-Yo Ma is rightly considered one of the world’s greatest living cellists — an icon in the world of classical music. But have you ever studied his fingers? Naturally, if you have seen him perform, you are drawn to how his fingers seem to caress his instrument’s fingerboard.
That is not what I am asking, though. Rather, have you ever looked at a still photo of the master with his fingers draped over his cello? I had occasion to do so when I purchased one of his albums. In the photo I was really drawn to his hands — they are exquisite, long and finely shaped! When his father began giving Yo-Yo lessons at the age of four, he could not know what attributes his son might possess. Certainly, there are many facets to his musical genius — the interpretation of a composer’s intent for the piece, his own phrasing, and his intellect. But I keep thinking about those fingers!
Maybe because I played the cello for ten years. Could my lack of mastery be tied to the fact that my fingers, on comparison, are not nearly as elegant? Hence, my lack of the requisite digital dexterity? All I lacked, then, was the right equipment!
Seriously, how many of us postpone seeking life’s joys because we feel inadequately equipped for a contemplated calling, be it a vocation or avocation? Read stories about many famously successful individuals in a myriad of callings and you will find a common thread. While still a famous-in-waiting person, many of them simply focused on a lifework they believed would bring them joy. Often they believed they had the way to fulfill an early career or pastime hope and desire squarely in the crosshairs of their consciousness, only to find that their aim was misplaced.
Rather, they discovered they weren’t adequately equipped to bring their vision to reality. Like me, in the long run they may have lacked dexterity. But the perseverance they had learned in this first attempt produced a remarkable, unexpected by-product — a different means to a joy-filled life. Read the following story from my book, Humanity at Work: Encouraging Spirit, Achievement and Truth to Flourish in the Workplace (Chapel Hill Press, 2008):
“So many of us covet unattainable faculties as we squander other skills merely awaiting cultivation. But not always! Did you know that Charles Schultz, the creator of ‘Peanuts,’ longed to be another Andrew Wyeth? Moreover, the man now remembered for creating some of the most beloved child characters barely passed a course on the subject of drawing children! Later in life he commented that he came to recognize that he was ‘born’ to draw comic strips. What if Mr. Schultz had not come to this realization? What if his mind could not acknowledge that perfection of this skill was his life’s best work? He might have gone the way of those who allow envy of another to gnaw at their soul; they devise one self-inadequacy after another, based on comparisons that constantly come up wanting. And so the next time we prepare to extinguish some of our self-esteem because we cannot run as fast as another, it may simply be an inspired signal that it’s time we learned how to fly!”
Remember that when we come into this world, we do not know what we are “born” to do. It’s a fair amount of time before we even recognize where we are, much less whom. It’s when we start trying out our personally endowed equipment that the interesting stuff begins. Some of it doesn’t work quite as advertised, but that is OK, you don’t have to play the cello like Yo-Yo Ma to treasure the time you spend doing so. But something else also happens during this lifelong shake-down cruise: we come upon the talents and gifts we possess that do cause us to be fulfilled — that do allow us to believe we are worthy and cause us therefore to treat ourselves as deserving. Surely joy follows from that self-understanding and satisfaction-in-doing.
To paraphrase Ronald Blythe, it is an act of ingratitude to allow death to upstage the joy we have the capacity and ability to take from life. Surely one species of ingratitude is envy of another person’s talents or negativity about our own abilities. Having the capacity to enjoy and revel in all we can do, in fact, is a sign to us that it is OK to do so! Plus, it is great preparation in us to use and enjoy our gifts, even when we do not play the cello like Yo-Yo Ma, for as Michelangelo said, “If we are pleased with life, then we should not be displeased with death since it comes from the same master.”
What activity or avocation do you pursue for the simple joy of it, and what has that satisfaction also brought into your life that you might not have experienced otherwise?