By Ben Schooley
Dearest EXPLORE reader,
When I was 14, I was rummaging around in the back of my parent’s closet (for a reason I cannot recall) and stumbled upon a guitar case.
I dragged it out, slowly opened it, and can still to this day remember the aroma of wood and leather and age that came out…and I laid my eyes on a most beautiful instrument. I had taken piano lessons as a kid (and hated it) so I had zero knowledge or skill with a guitar, but MAN, that thing was gorgeous.
I sat down it, strummed it a time or two and just smiled. I didn’t know any chords or really how to do anything with it, but I guess it resonated with me a bit and I was fascinated by it. My fingers hurt quickly as I pushed the strings, I dropped the pick many times, and I basically just made noise.Later that evening I was glancing at the family bookshelf and found an old music book titled “The Ultimate Jim Croce Guitar Chords!”. Now, I had no idea even who this Jim Croce guy was, he had weird curly hair and a mustache, but sure enough it contained the lyrics to his songs with a diagram of the necessary chords. I was able to figure out that I simply had to put my fingers in the illustrated chord diagram, strum slowly and – BAM – I just made music!
I was hooked.
Slowly I improved my finger work, I was able to buy a chord book for Guns ‘n Roses which was music I was far more interested in, and I played and played and played. My parents signed me up for some guitar lessons at one point after seeing my interest, but I hated them – the guy wanted to teach me how to read music and scales and all this stuff I didn’t want to mess with. I was just having fun learning the basic chord structure to my favorite songs and I was picking up little skills as time passed. This was my first foray in my life in understand that if you MAKE me learn something, I’ll push back no matter what it is. I’m sure those lessons could have improved my guitar skills exponentially but as soon as the teacher started rattling on about music theory, my brain shut off, I went home and resumed my own little education I was giving myself.
Through high school, I played. It was a fun talent to have that surprised some people when I would pull out the guitar and play the hottest song on the radio, it fed my confidence, and I would always smile. Later, in college, I learned that I could also write my own lyrics and music, and did that more than I should admit as I listened to professors drone on about things I didn’t want to learn. Then I even formed a band and spent a couple of years singing and playing and running around on an actual stage like a lunatic and meeting girls and watching the sun rise many, many times.
I’m 46 years old now and I still play the guitar most every single day.
I have no band and normally my audience consists of my dog, but there I am, wailing away on my favorite song in my living room. I think I still sound like I did in my 20s but I’m sure I sound far scratchier with a tinge of age and experience to my voice nowadays.
On the random moment where I have an opportunity to play a song for someone, I still get the surprise from them at my little talent. Not cause I’m “good” but because I guess it’s just not something that people seem to expect from me.
I still write song, some are good and some are horrible, but much like this little column, the written expression is important to me – even when it sucks. I always seem to have something to say.
Last year I found the guts to actually record myself on video and I played a song and posted it to Facebook. I was genuinely nervous about it because I didn’t want to have people pick on me. My ego is fragile nowadays. But sure enough, I smiled proudly as the compliments poured in with surprise and appreciation for this silly little talent I maintain to this day.
Experience has taught me a few things, and one of them is that we all possess talents and skills that are not what people might expect. I have a friend that is a CPA. Well, he’s actually an aspiring water color artist, but he does CPA work to pay the bills. There’s a bartender at Dobbs that is trying out to be in a play at the Boerne Community Theatre. Her eyes light up when she talks about it. My mom was a CEO of a whole bunch of things, but she really is far more interested in just riding her horse.
The examples are endless.
We all have a friend that works in XYZ industry, but harbors this very real and sincere passion via a creative outlet that we might find surprising or interesting. “Never knew you did that!” we exclaim in appreciation. They smile, and humbly change topics, but if they’re anything like me…they really want to keep talking about it.
But WHY? What is it about our little “talents” that we’ll work for 40 years on our careers and then when given the first opportunity at retirement, we dive head first into oil painting or writing that book we always wanted to write or volunteering or any other activity that fascinates us?
Most of you will say “Well, real life requires us to focus on our careers so we can have that great retirement to focus on our favorite activities!” and I suppose you’d be partially right.
In the end, yes, we do the things we MUST do first. And then we do the thing that we WANT to do. So which one is more closely aligned with your heart? Which one do you choose to spend your time, and which one are you obligated to do so? Which one is your passion, and which one is your responsibility?
And so if we know those answers, which one makes you who you ARE?
Your neighbor is passionate about advocating for troubled youth. Your doctor spends his weekends working on a book he’s always wanted to write. Your local barista is practicing drums to hopefully go on the road with his garage band.
And on and on.
People and their passions just infinitely fascinate me because every single one of you reading this have one. Something that would potentially surprise your friends and have them saying “Really? WOW! Tell me about it!” and they’d humble say “Well, gosh…it’s nothing really…but I am having a lot of fun with it….”and you’d see the smile on their faces.
And in their eyes.
But we forget that about people, don’t we?
When someone asks you “Do you know Bob?” you respond with “Oh – yeah! The plumber?” or the CPA or the carpenter or the executive. That’s our descriptor for people: “This is Bob. He does X.” But I would just challenge you to take a look around and investigate the depth that exists in every single one of us. I’m not “Ben – the magazine guy”. I’d love to hear “Yeah, I know Ben. He does magazines, right? Did you know he also plays guitar, is trying to learn how to paint, is a single dad, and has a cool idea for a book he wants to write.”
What would you want someone to say when asked about you? What could you say about your spouse? Your kids as well? Your boss? Your favorite waitress?
Everywhere you go, people are doing what they HAVE to do, while dreaming of what they WANT to do.
Ask them about it. Encourage them. Let them talk about it. Watch their smiles. Their hearts shine through. Just revel in the simplicity of life when you allow people to be who they want to be.
You might find your own passions stirred and have a deeper appreciation for that which makes you GO.
As for me, I’m going to go play guitar.
Welcome to May. May you take a look around, appreciate the passions of others, EXPLORE your own passions, and carve out an even bigger slice of your life to focus on what makes you……YOU.