A few weeks ago I sat at a folding table in the dining hall of a conference center, sipped at a mug of tea and had a full, uninterrupted conversation.

Someone had convinced us to go on the annual church retreat. This meant painting and hikes for the kids (child care) and freedom from the clock for us.

I actually had many uninterrupted conversations over the weekend — with tea and otherwise — but the one I’m thinking of was with the parents of a high school student who excels at violin. I was picking their brains about how she got started because a certain someone in our house is angling for a violin for Christmas.

The emotion this stirs in me is terror. My first thought is how to handle it when she wants to bail out. Because, believe me, she will.

This may sound harsh. But I know this kiddo. We’ve been down this path before. Something (soccer, swimming, school…) sounds fun. So she starts. She’s thrilled. She works hard. She excels. She hits a snag. She flags. She doesn’t want to go today. She doesn’t want to go ever again. She stomps around the house. She hates soccer, swimming, school. She hates us.

So I fear this scenario playing itself out. But even more, I fear bailing out myself. I doubt my ability to hold her to a daily commitment. Since I don’t play an instrument myself (required piano credits in college notwithstanding), I already know we don’t have the right culture in our house to support daily practice sessions. Plus, my attention to ongoing, non-musical tasks (dust, thank-you notes) isn’t outstanding.

But here’s what sticks with me. “I think she’s learned,” this girl’s father said, “that if she follows the reluctance and practices even when she doesn’t feel like it, she gets into it.”

Right. It’s about getting over that initial hump. Flip those negative emotions on their heads and they become guides. Fear, intimidation, hopelessness, worry — every one can become the next smooth phrase coming from an internal GPS system, “At the next intersection, turn right and continue straight to the place you least want to go.” Grab a rag and open the door to the cleaning closet. Sit down with a stack of cards and an address book.

Following our negative emotions can be almost like a game. What don’t I want to do today?

For me? I don’t want to price out lessons and instrument rentals (fear). I don’t want to write (discouraged) or vacuum (annoyed). But here goes.

Photo courtesy of A. Vivaldi (Creative Commons).