Life Lessons: Learning the Guitar

Feb 22, 2023 | Coaching, Mediation | 0 comments

Although my work as a Divorce Mediator and life coach doesn’t usually involve giving advice or sharing words of wisdom, I do ask clients to notice what they are learning as they go through some of the challenges they face. The most powerful aspect of both coaching and divorce mediation is to bring non-judgmental curiosity to those challenges that keep us from moving forward.


Words of Wisdom.


Sometimes wisdom comes from places or events where you never thought to look for it.

Like learning to play the guitar.

When I bought my first guitar, the salesman asked if I played. I said no, but I’m going to take lessons. He showed me where to put my fingers to play C and give the guitar a strum. Then he showed me where to put my fingers to play G. He had me go back to the C and he said, “Now you’re a guitar player.”

I, of course, thought that was ridiculous. And nothing more than a joke.

Little did I know, at the time, that hidden in that little joke was some profound wisdom that I wouldn’t appreciate for another 15 years or so. Without thinking about it, I had defined “guitar playing” as the ability to play a song in front of my friends and family without being embarrassed. “Not being embarrassed” also meant playing perfectly.

It is these stories that I told myself that inhibited my growth as a guitar player for years. But what if I accepted the story that knowing how to play two chords makes you a “guitar player?” From then on it’s just a matter of getting better (a lifelong pursuit).


Identify the Lessons.


My friend and guitar teacher, Vince Chafin, gave me a similar lesson. He described his wish to learn to play the guitar and sing like James Taylor. Eventually, he had to learn that he was never going to play like James Taylor. I nodded knowingly. For, of course, no one could expect to ever sing with the beautiful baritone voice and sweet yet complex guitar of James Taylor.

But then he said it.

“And you’re going to have to learn that you’re never going to play and sing like Bruce Springsteen.“


I wanted to hit him.

I’ve got time! I’ve got many years left to learn to play like Bruce Springsteen.

He followed it up with “But you can learn to play like Matthew.”

That was many years ago but I think I am only now starting to get a sense of what that life’s lesson means.


Embracing the Lessons.


On one level, it’s just math. Bruce Springsteen started playing at 14 and I started at 47. He made playing guitar a full-time job almost immediately. I’ve got a day job (and yes, I most assuredly will not be giving it up for the guitar).

But on a deeper level, there is learning to enjoy the process and avoid grasping for the result. If I needed to play without mistakes, the process was frustrating and not very fun. And because it wasn’t that fun, I didn’t play as much as I could have. And if I can’t have fun without having “mastered the song” or achieved some level of success that is three steps ahead of where I am, I will always come up short.

This is a balance that I have found hard to master. Balancing the hard work of learning a difficult chord against the pleasure of playing with abandon, without concern of being perfect. In other words, playing just for fun. It has only been recently that I have permitted myself to play badly, just for me, without concern for what I might sound like to others. And I must say that the quality of my guitar playing has increased far more rapidly as a result.

There is a third level of wisdom that I have been exploring lately. A lesson that my experience with the guitar has been trying to teach me for years. This feels like the most important lesson.


Don’t miss the joy.


I’m off target if I am working hard at “being a good guitar player,” whether that means playing in a certain way, sounding like someone else, or in some other way trying to be the person I think other people expect me to be. I’m working too hard and not having enough fun. When I focus on being me, with all the good parts as well as the mistakes and imperfections, then my friends, family, and indeed the Universe, respond.

Right now, I’m playing some Bruce Springsteen songs (among other things) that are pretty dark. Sometimes it sounds good, other times not so much. Although I think no one wants to hear the darkness, I’m playing more, sounding better, and having people appreciate how I show up when I play – because I’m playing what resonates for me right now and not being worried about being “perfect.”


What does this have to do with Divorce Mediation? With Coaching?


Let’s see if we can apply the wisdom of learning the guitar to these fields:


It starts with accepting where you are.

You may think you shouldn’t have to get a divorce, or that the process should be easy, or whatever your story is that you wish was true. But empowerment starts with accepting the reality of where you are right now (47 years old and not 14, getting a divorce and not living happily ever after, wanting 20 new clients but only having 2).


Finding a balance between hard work and joy.

In both Divorce Mediation and Coaching the client is working towards getting to a better place. Maybe that’s putting their divorce behind them, having a more satisfying business, or being healthier. Getting from where you are now to that better place is always going to involve hard work (whether that’s assembling all your financial information, picking up the phone and networking, or doing some resistance training). But doing that hard work is going to be easier to do consistently if you are in touch with why you are doing it. I’m preparing this schedule of assets or engaging in this negotiation because I want to put this chapter of my life behind me. I’m making these calls because when I have 20 clients, I’ll be able to afford that sailboat I dream of. Or, I’m doing this resistance training because I want to like what I see in the mirror in the morning.

And doing the hard work is easier if you can get in touch with the joy that is available along the way. You may be sad that your marriage is over – but at the same time can you get in touch with how nice it is to have an evening to yourself with no one else to please or deal with? What about an evening just to read a trashy paperback novel (if that’s your thing)? Networking may be uncomfortable, but can you get in touch with the joy of connecting with people? Can you make a game out of weightlifting? Can you make it a competition?

Where can you find joy in the journey?

It’s there, somewhere, just like the proverbial pony under the pile of manure.


Accept who you are, be your best self, and don’t try to be someone you aren’t.

I’m awful at being Bruce Springsteen. But as a 64-year-old guitar player, who started late in life, who picks it up off and on, and who has a stressful day job, I’m pretty darn good (if I do say so myself). If you are getting a divorce, don’t pretend to be an attorney if you aren’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t mediate, but that does mean you need to understand your limitations, listen for the information you don’t have, and ask for help when you need it. And if you simply can’t represent yourself because you are too caught up in the emotions of the process, acknowledge that and ask a collaborative attorney to represent you. If marketing yourself by putting on workshops is not your thing, acknowledge that and find a process that fits who you are. There are lots of alternatives. If you need the structure of a class or a personal trainer to do strength training, acknowledge that is true and get the help you need. Don’t tell yourself you are a failure because you can’t do it the way your “successful cousin Eddie” did it.

For those of you somewhere in the process of getting a divorce, are you ready to learn and embrace transformation? Are you ready to discover who you are as a single person? What new identity will you embrace? If not now, when?

For those of you who are here for some other reason, what road are you traveling? Are you waiting to arrive, or are you getting all you can from the trip?

If these are questions you want to explore more deeply, set up a complimentary coaching call, and let’s find out if coaching is right for you.


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