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Beautiful Music

I was twelve years old when I first picked up a violin. No magical beams of light spilled forth from the case when I opened it. I heard no choir of angels as I raised the instrument to my chin, and if there were any angels hanging around when I started playing, they probably plugged their ears and hightailed it out of there. My orchestra tenure followed a typical trajectory: for three years, I begrudgingly stuck with it, practiced as little as I possibly could, and once I got to high school, I switched electives and took up photography instead.

Earlier this year, I made the decision to pick up the violin a second time. I still haven’t witnessed any heavenly hosts descending and ascending as I play, but a few things have changed since my first foray. This time, I’m motivated to practice and improve. And, crucially, I have a teacher – not some poor soul trying desperately to get thirty-two middle schoolers to play in harmony, but a private instructor to give me personalized guidance.

These two changes have made all the difference. Whether you’re playing the violin or learning any new skill, you’ve got to have the right mindset, and you’ve got to practice. However, you also have to practice in the right direction. During our very first lesson, my instructor shared some simple wisdom. He told me that playing the violin is about two things: making beautiful music, and doing so in as relaxed and efficient a manner as possible.

That might not sound like anything earth-shattering, but those two overarching goals have completely changed my approach to playing. In middle school, my goal was simply to hit the right notes (and try not to produce too many screechy, scratchy gaffes along the way). Once I could muscle my way through a piece, I moved on to the next one. This time around, I can literally spend weeks playing the same tune – not just trying to hit the right notes, but trying to coax the music out of it.

Whether you’ve ever played an instrument or not, hopefully you’ve had some experience where motivation, dedication, and direction transformed your pursuit of a goal.

Now, I want you to take a moment to think about your financial plan, and your approach to investing. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does saving and investing your money feel like torment, or do you approach it willingly, or even excitedly?
  2. Are you managing your finances efficiently, or is your financial house cluttered and confused?
  3. Do you have an experienced advisor who can give you direction, correct your mistakes, explain things in a way that makes sense, and remind you of the overarching goals you are trying to achieve?
  4. Are you straining your mental and emotional muscles to follow your financial plan, or do you feel relaxed and at peace about your money?
  5. Do you feel like you’re simply trying to hit the right notes (saving a certain percentage of your annual income, earning a certain percentage on your investments, leaving a certain amount to your children, etc.), or are you blending these notes together into a harmonious, holistic plan?

Whether you’re playing an instrument or managing your wealth, there are commonalities to success. Having the right mindset, being diligent in your preparation, maximizing efficiency, and seeking guidance from a trusted teacher are among the key ingredients. Only when you embrace these elements can you start to make beautiful music.

One last note: Re-learning the violin has also reminded me of how beneficial and refreshing it can be to step outside of my comfort zone. In my normal course of life, I tend to stick to things that I’m good at: intellectually, athletically, etc. Professionally, I’m often the one giving advice, not receiving it. Playing the violin in front of my instructor puts me in an uncomfortable position, since I’m keenly aware of how amateurish my playing is compared to his. However, each week, I get a little better, and while there is still plenty of progress to be made, these lessons have reminded me of how satisfying it feels to face and overcome a challenge. So, if you’re like me and prefer to stay in your comfort zone, I hope you feel encouraged to take on a new challenge!


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