A Wayward Achiever Rediscovers an Old Interest – Piano

The Problem

I’ve been floundering a bit in my effort to get on track. Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit depressed over a lack of direction and passion. I’m typically driven by goals and results, and with a total absence of either, I’ve felt aimless.

I imagine most people feel motivated to work hard as a matter of survival. The rat race provides the traditional model of motivation, by dangling material rewards in exchange for time and effort. But we’ve graduated beyond the rat race. We’ve reduced our desire for material goods and, at the same time, ensured we have a sufficient level of financial independence to not work.

We’re at a point where we are staring out at an abyss. This is what has gotten me depressed lately. I have just been feeling down and not really interested in things that I typically like. My wife has noticed too. The gloomy weather and near-constant rain has not helped either. Were it not for the weather, I might try playing golf or taking photos outside to counteract my mood.

At the core, I think my problem is I don’t know what’s in store. I’m not driving toward anything, but I want to because I enjoy that feeling of achievement and accomplishment. It is fulfilling to me. And in the absence of any fulfillment, I end up feeling depressed.

Finding a Solution

As a last resort, I decided to take up another hobby — piano. I played when I was younger, but stopped taking lessons in middle school. In high school, I dabbled in piano a little bit, but then lost access to a piano when I moved for college. Even though I was never that good at piano to win any competitions, I was good enough to muddle my way through an easy Chopin or medium-difficulty Beethoven.

I did have some hurdles to overcome in my mind. I’m a minimalist at heart and the struggle has always been knowing when to let more things into our lives. Having been away from piano so long, I was hesitant to buy a piano if I was going to lose interest after a few weeks. But my wife encouraged me to buy one. So I bought a digital keyboard with 88 hammer-weighted keys to play like a real acoustic piano, but at a much lower weight and cost.

Casio PX-360 digital keyboard piano
Casio PX-360

Slow Progress

It was fun, yet really tiring, to play the piano again. I didn’t make things easier by picking a pretty tough Chopin — Valse Brilliante, Op. 18 — as my first piece to learn. Just reading the music and trying to strike the right chords took more energy than I expected. On my first try, I felt mentally drained after just 20 minutes and couldn’t make it past the first passage. But after a week of practice of about an hour a day, I was able to play through the entire nine-page piece slowly and without making a ton of mistakes. I felt pretty proud of myself for being able to do so despite such a long break. Here is an amazing pianist who is playing the same piece I am learning:

I’m slowly adjusting to my new life and piano has become a regular part. I’m not feeling as depressed as I was a few weeks ago. It’s not clear if I was just going through a phase or if piano had anything to do with me feeling better. But picking up a new hobby is always a good thing.

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