“Every cloud has a silver lining.”
“There’s a light at the end of every tunnel”
“It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
Blah, blah, blah.
Glib quotes like these are worse than useless to a musician who’s just experienced an injury. At first, it’s impossible to “stay positive” or “focus on the good.” All we can focus on is what we’ve lost, the thing we love the most: our ability to make music. And for any serious musician – a talented high school student, a dedicated amateur, or a full-on professional – that’s a huge loss.
We’re allowed to panic, we’re allowed to mourn, and we’re allowed to freak out for a while. But only for a while. Because if we stay there, if we wallow in our sorrows forever, we’ll never begin the journey back. And it’s a long hike, so we best get started.
There are several steps to take right away when an injury strikes, and I’ll cover those very soon in an upcoming post. But for now, let’s talk about the good things that can come from a performance injury. And yes, there are good things.
An injury forces you to examine how you spend your time.
Have you ever noticed that when the power goes out, our behavior patterns become obvious? We know intellectually that most of our usual activities aren’t possible without electricity, but out of unthinking habit, we try them one by one. TV, nope. Computer, nope. Dishwasher, nope. Xbox, nope. “Man,” we think, “I sure spend a lot of my time using electronics. Maybe I should read more.” But, of course, the power comes back on 20 minutes later and we don’t read more. We Reddit more.
When you’re an injured musician, it’s like the power never comes back on. It’s a big adjustment living without electricity, but you do read more, so to speak. Or, in other words, when half your day is spent playing music, it’s easy to justify ignoring things like physical fitness, your finances, and the quality of your relationships. “I’ll worry about that crap later,” we think. “Practicing is what I need to focus on right now. Practice, practice, practice.” But when you’re hurt, you suddenly have a lot of free time, and you have to do something with it.
An injury suggests you find some new hobbies.
When we can’t practice (and aren’t going to be able to for a while) we have to turn our Super Musician Laser Focus toward other things. You can’t spend thousands of hours improving yourself (and that’s what learning an instrument is) and then just stop. You find yourself in need of something else to get better at.
In my case, I did start actually reading more, but I also I learned how to play the guitar. Then I started exercising seriously for the first time in years. Then I relearned how to play the piano. Then I learned how to handle money and started attacking my mountain of student loans. I don’t say these things to impress you; in fact I almost feel like I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t know what else to focus on, and as a musician, I had to focus on something.
An injury invites you learn another instrument.
Are you a trumpet player or a musician? A trumpet player, a high-note jock, a meathead – he can only play the trumpet. But a real musician? For him, the trumpet is just an instrument, just a way to get the music out into the world. And there are many, many other instruments. Pick one.
An injury makes you grateful for what you have.
Max Lucado likes to say that “Gratitude is the quickest way out of a bad day.”
Everybody reading this knows where dinner is coming from. We all have unlimited free water. When something hurts, we go to the doctor and she tells us what’s wrong. Then she fixes it. We go to sleep at night without worrying about our safety.
We all live in the 21st century, where the wisdom of the ages is available for free. Instantly. We can listen to Maria Callas or read Shakespeare in about 10 keystrokes. We can even purchase and eat a 1/2 pound Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup if we want.
For the vast majority of people who have lived on this planet, most the above has not been true. We are incredibly fortunate. Now, that doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to get angry, frustrated, or sad. We’re human, and those feelings are part of the deal. But we can mitigate them by focusing on what we do have, because it’s a lot.
But wait, there’s more!
Here’s the best part, though: when you finally overcome the injury and return to normal, you get to keep all the new stuff, too! You get to keep your new fitness habit, your new money skills, your new hobbies, your new perspective on life, or whatever experiences and skills your particular journey may hold.
When an injury is brand new, it’s too soon to think about this stuff, I admit. The wound is too fresh. But once reality has set in and you’ve begun the long journey home, you might as well extract the maximum value possible from the experience. Or, in other words, look for the silver lining.