How Do You Keep Yourself Inspired?

Category: Musing

I started taking piano lessons (again) in June, but before I tell you why, let me give you some backstory. When I was nine years old, my dad retired from the Chicago Post Office and used a huge chunk of his savings to buy a Baldwin upright piano.

He dreamed of playing “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals. After four months of lessons, he decided that piano was a trick this dog did not want to learn. Being the last kid left in the house, my tennis practice turned into piano lessons. Ugh.

Turned out I had a knack for it—so much so that I outgrew a few teachers, and thanks to Mrs. Kerr, I became a fairly talented classical pianist. I even won a few state competitions—situations I never enjoyed or wanted to be in, by the way, but found myself competing a few times a year until I left for college.

I decided to leave the music world behind when I went to college, and it wasn’t until my husband bought a keyboard for me as a surprise during lockdown that I started to dabble back into the keys. Without a teacher, I got frustrated with my progress. A few months after receiving this wonderful gift, I put the cover back on, and instead of playing it regularly, I dusted it regularly.

Not sure what happened this June, but I got super curious about it again and decided to find a teacher. I cannot express how grateful I am for Heidi, who knew exactly how to bring out the music and reactivate the muscle memory and techniques. My hope was to someday be back where I was when I stopped, but it looks like I’ll surpass that level with her support. 

Heidi shared that listening to piano music and watching others play is also considered “practice.” I’ve been going to jazz concerts and free concerts all over San Francisco to watch others play. I recently went to “Flower Piano” in Golden Gate Park, where pianos of all kinds are placed around the park so people of all playing levels can perform for an audience. After a bit of a stroll, I discovered a five-year-old playing the beginning bars of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” under one tree and later a professional jazz musician playing by a magnolia tree.

Every day, they had a special feature: a professional pianist playing a grand piano under the stars or often in the fog. I watched Van-Anh Nguyen play a piece that mashed Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”—a piece I’m currently practicing—with Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time.” I felt a jolt of inspiration that had me standing up from my chair and moving as close as I could to watch her play. I was mesmerized by her creativity, but I had to see her hands move across the keys (often with her eyes closed). Being classically trained, I never deviated from classical music (I loved Mrs. Kerr, but she never allowed it).

I went home that night and played in a way that was so much looser, so much freer, than I think I have ever played. And I played so much better! Being with Nguyen and all these other musicians who shared my love for piano seeped inspiration into my bones. The feeling took me to a new place.

It got me thinking about where we go for inspiration, not just for enjoyment. I knew I’d enjoy watching people of all ages and walks of life play the piano, but I didn’t expect to be inspired in a way that changed how I play and, even more importantly, how I feel when I play.

Up until that moment, I considered playing the piano a hobby. Suddenly my hobby was ignited into a passion. Passion is fueled by inspiration. Seeing Nguyen inspired me to source different sheet music, to play modern music (more like Billy Joel than Britney Spears), and to level up the pieces I was playing because my excitement pushed away the fear of messing up.

That week and for a few weeks following, I had an extra kick in my step, more energy throughout the day, and more flow sessions at the keys. We can’t force a spike in our inspiration, but we can put ourselves in situations that encourage ideas and build enthusiasm. The word “inspiration” comes from the Latin word inspiratus, which means “breathe into.”

What passions and interests of yours are longing for some oxygen? Speaking of mash-ups, here are a few ideas to help you get started from two articles: BetterUp and Lifehack:

  1. Keep an idea book or maintain an inspiration board.
  2. Do a low-effort creative task to trigger insights and ideas.
  3. Learn something new to cultivate neuroplasticity in your brain.
  4. Find a new location or new route for your commute, work, or daily coffee.
  5. Spend time in nature to open your headspace.
  6. Learn what others are doing in your field.
  7. Follow ten people who inspire you.

Watch for a fresh list of ideas when I post them in the Resources section of my website. Remember, the idea is to find something that works for you. It may be one thing or a combination of a few. Also, watch for an excerpt of this post on my LinkedIn profile, where we’ll be sharing how others get inspired. Please weigh in!

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