One summer break while in high school, I decided to learn the violin. In my imagination, I would be quite the virtuoso; all I needed was an instrument.
So I searched newspaper want ads for a used violin I could afford with my meager savings. I found one, arranged to meet the seller at the flagpole of our high school one morning, looked it over and negotiated a three-day trial.
One day later, after hours of drawing the violin bow back and forth across its strings in a manner reminiscent of fingernails across a chalkboard, I was back at the flagpole returning the violin to its rightful owner.
At the time, I didn’t have a direction for my life, and I was looking hard for one. I wanted to be good at something, and the violin seemed like a winner.
Becoming a violinist seemed like it would be fun and easy. But when discipline and effort were required, I didn’t measure up. I just didn’t want it bad enough, and that turned out to be a most useful lesson.
Over the years, I’ve spent portions of many summers trying new things. I tried out for a football team one summer; when the coach ran out of jerseys and helmets – and still supposedly hadn’t received any extras two weeks later – I took that as a pointed hint. I spent three weeks late one summer driving a rental car throughout predominantly non-English speaking Eastern Europe, gently discussing with my wife which way to turn at every fork in the road. I played baseball for a few years, until the bus ride home after practice finally overwhelmed my enthusiasm for the sport.
I was set up to intern with a lawyer once; he said yes at first, but then changed his mind. Once, I spent what seemed like an entire summer cleaning cow manure from two farmers’ barns – now that was a life-changing experience.
Another summer, while waiting to enroll in an MBA program, I was trained and set to manage a Blimpie’s restaurant in Chicago; then the Morning News called, and I wound up in Dallas instead.
Summer brings new opportunities, and whether we step up or step back is our call. That willingness to make the call, as opposed to letting someone else make it for us, can be the difference between spending a life looking forward rather than spending it just looking around.
I’ve never wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t returned that violin; it was a dream I tried and decided wasn’t for me. It was my decision to move on, rather than someone else’s.
And everything seems to be working out fine. Instead of sawing away at violin strings that summer, I drifted in another direction – over toward the school newspaper.