Overcoming the Fear of Wasted Time

One thing that can really hold us back is the fear of going down a “dead end,” with the assumption that the precious time we spend traveling these paths will have gone to waste. In order to avoid this, we attempt to make sure we choose only what seem to be directions leading to certain benefit. We end up not knowing where to begin, or what to do next. Let’s look at this logic, and how it can hold us back.

Dead Ends

Starting with grade-school, we find ourselves in the position of putting in time on things that don’t appear to have a payoff. The basic premise here is that we will burn irreplaceable hours, days or even years of our lives pursuing goals that will turn out not to move us towards our dreams. Let’s look at some examples:

  • Studying subjects in school that don’t directly bear on our intended career, such as history, math, geography, or any number of “humanities” that don’t make us a living.
  • Working at seemingly dead-end jobs that are not interesting to us.
  • Handling maintenance in our lives such as organization, nutrition, fitness etc.

In our musical study, these might qualify:

  • Practicing “raw” technique such as exercises, scales, and basic patterns. We know these are seldom used in their entirety in any actual performance.
  • Sightreading: Perhaps we intend to play in a band that rehearses everything, or we expect to memorize our performance repertoire.
  • Repertoire that is not part of our chosen style or that we know we will never perform.
  • Practicing patterns and licks that we are unsure will be of use for our improvisation or performance.
  • Finishing pieces that we aren’t enchanted with.
Ironically, our desire to “optimize” our time, we end up avoiding a lot of paths, and we end up frozen in “option anxiety.” I have struggled with these things in my musical (and non-musical) journey, and I have come to this realization:
Any Direction is Up
In many cases, we spend more of our time trying to sort out what will be of benefit than we do actually doing those things. We hold back from really working on something unless we get confirmation that this will actually be of practical use. In this effort to optimize our time, we miss out on a lot of things:

  • By following through with our goals, we build a rather important aspect of ourselves called character. The payoffs of this willingness to take things all the way are enormous.
  • The confidence we build in our musicianship (and in other areas) far outweighs the time used. There is something about doing it right that is worth it.
  • We really don’t know where we are going. At this point, time travel has not been invented, so we need to be careful about our predictions.
  • The refusal to experiment with what might be an unsuccessful composition for fear of wasting time prevents us from learning. Plus, often those “orphan” pieces turn out to be some of our best.
  • Practicing anything is better than not practicing. Even if we can’t decide what to work on, the process itself is what really matters.
Not Deciding is a Decision
We are often analytical beings, and in our attempts to conserve our precious time, we can get caught in a cycle of indecision, trying to choose the best course of action. In the end, just to get moving is the whole point.

  • Do you “hold back” from exploring certain directions based on fear of wasting your time?
  • Do you leave your pieces unfinished because they seem like “dead ends?”
  • What are some areas you would explore if you were going to live forever?