The second and third qualities essential to becoming your own teacher are closely related. Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, frustration, or disappointment without getting angry, feeling helpless, or becoming judgemental. Intertwined with patience is perseverance, which is the ability to continue working on something despite difficulty, delay, or even setbacks in achieving a desired outcome.
It would be awesome if we could immediately absorb all the knowledge and understanding that we need or want to know. Similarly, it would be equally great if we could instantly develop a new skill. On occasion, we do quickly understand a new concept or acquire a particular skill relatively fast; however, when we do run into our limitations, it is our response to these challenges that will determine how far we go or how deep we truly understand something.
When something doesn’t go well or we are not making the progress that we would hope or expect, the best response is to get curious. Curiosity is very playful, creative, and powerful. Be keen on investigating exactly what is preventing you from reaching your objective, and more importantly, begin to explore possible solutions to the challenges that lay before you. Perhaps you can approach or consider the issue from a different angle? Viewing a difficult problem from another perspective can often reveal a new approach we can take to solve the problem. For example, let’s say you have a problem remembering a particular fingering for a melodic minor scale. Perhaps learning to sing the scale would help with the physical memory? Or maybe saying the note names as you play the scale? Maybe having a better understanding of the scale structure would help? Perhaps visualizing your left-hand fingers while singing each note of the scale or saying the note names would get you past your memory issues? In other words, sometimes a solution is reached when we tackle the problem from multiple points of view and not just one.
Many students who want to become their own teacher struggle with the concept of working hard versus working smart. We are often taught that if we work hard, we can achieve anything we set our minds to. We assume that if we just keep grinding away—even if our approach is inefficient or wrong—that we will overcome the problem. However, doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results is plain insanity. It is noble to work hard but it is just silly to work hard at doing the wrong thing. Working hard is an essential quality of all who want to be successful in reaching their goals but doing endless repetitions without mindfulness will not get the desired results you are seeking. As your own teacher, you must pay attention to your approach to solving a problem. More importantly, you must choose the approaches and actions that will result in you fixing the problem and not exasperate it. Remember, the goal is to solve the problem and not simply work hard.
Similarly, you could also research who else has experienced the same problem and learn from what they did. The big advantage of education is the opportunity to learn from other people’s experience so that you can avoid the same mistakes or at least lesson the pain in tackling the problem you are dealing with. One source for tapping into the experiences of others is the Internet. I am always amazed at what my students discover when researching a solution to a particular issue they are dealing with. However, a word of caution: one must learn to be discerning regarding the sources one refers to. Just as there is a lot of good information out there, the Internet is also the source of bad, wrong, or misleading information. Just because it is on the Internet, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting reliable information or advice. In other words, take the initiative between lessons to solve your own problems but at your next lesson, discuss the situation with your instructor, share what you have discovered, and they can share their perspective and experience.
It should also be mentioned that you will try many things to overcome a particular challenge but many of the solutions you will try will fail. Again, this is where you need a lot of patience and perseverance. As an instructor, I have learned that a solution that works for one student doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for another. Also, we all learn at different rates and you must be patient with yourself if you are not “getting it” as fast as you expect or would like. Just because a solution for one of your friends or classmates worked—or for some famous guitarist—, it doesn’t mean it is necessarily going to work for you. We are all different and solutions often have to be tailor-made.
Finally, when you are banging your head against the wall trying to solve a problem or overcome a technical limitation, sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away for a short while and then come back to the problem with a fresh pair of eyes and an open set of ears. Sometimes a bit of space brings a lot of clarity. That said, it is all too easy to walk away and get distracted. The problem only gets bigger when we ignore or avoid it. The best way to deal with any challenge is to face it head on.
As your own teacher, you must be patient when things are not going well but continue to persevere in order to achieve the results you are after, but always be prepared to change your approach.