Friday, February 22, 2013

If You Must Sin, Sin Boldly

When I was in college, I performed in a symphonic band under a conductor who often told his players, “If you must sin, sin boldly.” We usually heard it while rehearsing a new piece, when a particular section or performer would make a tentative entrance, unsure of an unfamiliar melody or harmony or rhythm. We were inevitably scolded for being hesitant, whether the notes we were playing were right or wrong. The conductor preferred that we play a wrong note confidently than to sneak in, unnoticed, while playing the correct part.

I find that adage to be applicable to many creative endeavors. You might not be 100% sure of what you are doing, but it’s better to throw yourself into it, heart and soul, and fail, than it is to hold back, give less than your all, and kind-of-sort-of-succeed. Creativity by its nature involves risk. For every spectacular success there are dozens of spectacular failures. But what’s much worse is that for every spectacular success, there are hundreds of dull, hesitant, half-hearted, could-have-been successes.

Because of the fear of failure, I was often one of the players in the band sneaking in on my part, hoping to stay unnoticed. I was willing to pass up a chance to be noticed for my skill in favor of hiding my mistakes. That’s not the best way to express creativity. Fortunately, my son has apparently not inherited my fear of creative failure. He thinks outside the box in many ways. Possibly, being only 3, it’s because he’s not entirely aware of the box. But I love how unlimited his imagination is.

For example, he has a game made up of different colored, different length wooden blocks. There is a deck of cards showing various arrangements of the blocks, and the players try to copy each pattern. Sometimes he likes to find a card to copy, but more often than not, he makes up his own designs. He doesn’t limit himself to the square layout shown in all the cards, either. He makes oblongs and polygons and sometimes even 3-dimensional towers.

He thinks creatively about food, too. For lunch today, I offered him a choice of a peanut butter sandwich or a grilled cheese sandwich. He thought for a moment, then proposed, “How about a chicken sandwich?” OK, I have chicken, I can do that. Then he grinned and offered his topper: “How about a chicken AND APPLE sandwich?” Hmmm, that sounds kind of weird, but I have apples, so OK. And you know what? It was really good! If I had pooh-poohed his request because it was unusual and different, we would both have missed out on a really good treat. If he had hesitated to make his request because he thought it might be weird, we would have missed it, as well. But we both took a leap – boldly – and we were rewarded!

So, as I often do, I will take a lesson from my son. A lesson to think outside the box. A lesson to not be limited by rules and past experience. A lesson to not fear spectacular failure, only to fear boring success. A lesson to go ahead and try a chicken and apple sandwich!


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