What do you truly want?

Having ended my first job on a good note, I decided to treat myself and bought a piano. I wasn’t an expensive piano, but it was the biggest purchase I’ve ever made for myself. The new piano sparked an almost child-like joy in me, which I, and maybe most of us, have forgotten for a while.

Before purchasing my own piano, I’ve only had one piano my entire life. It was an old Renner which my dad bought at a second-hand piano store. Back in the days, being able to buy a piano is a luxury. My dad got a good deal, so my parents bought it and insisted that I learn the piano right away.

I spent my entire childhood hating the piano. Playing the piano was an obligation, not entertainment, for the 7-year-old me. I hate it whenever my mom sat next to me and monitored how I play. I hate it when my parents made me play a song so they could show me off to the friends they invited over. I didn’t understand why I have to be playing the piano when I could just sit around and watch cartoons. As a kid, I probably hated the piano because my parents pressured me to play it so much. I understood that the activity was something my parents decided and forced upon me, without asking me if I really was interested in the activity at all.

I continued to have half-hearted piano lessons until I was 14. My piano teacher back then was unusual. She forced me to cut my nails so short, they started to hurt whenever I play. She also hit me on the hand whenever I played incorrectly or played something that she didn’t think was pretty. Now that I reflect back on it, that was definitely a problem. I didn’t get bruises or anything, but that was not a good way to educate a child, definitely not ideal when you want to convince a child who hates the piano that it is her passion. After taking piano lessons for 2 years with her, I told my mom that I wanted to quit.  Suprisingly, she allowed me to quit, and I stopped playing the piano for a long period of time.

Strangely enough, I love playing the piano now. I can’t recall exactly how I ended up liking the piano. If I had to think of why I changed my mind, it would probably be when I listened to “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” – somebody’s piano cover of that song. I thought to myself , “I want to be able to play like that”. I started practicing, and it just happened. I came to love playing the piano. However, the “scar” of the painful years of learning the piano stayed with me. Now, whenever I play the piano, I have to cut my nails short, as short as they were back then. Somehow, it is as if the cells on my hands send a signal to my brain, saying that if I don’t cut my nails short enough, I will get hit on the hand. I’m obviously not afraid of the teacher anymore, and sure enough will not get hit on the hand. But somehow, the trauma stays.

What would have happened if my parents, instead of purchasing a piano, played a song like “Chestnut roasting on an open fire” for me when I was 7 ? Would I love playing the piano as a child, continue to practice, and become a professional pianist now ? If my passion for playing the piano was natural, would it eventually come with or without the presence of my favorite song ? I don’t know. Maybe. However, I most likely would not have the traumatic years of learning the piano with a horrible teacher. I am lucky that I was able to recover from the experience, and was able to gain a passion for the piano. Imagine me, or some other kids, who will never understand the importance and beauty of music.

What if it’s not just the piano or music ? What if the kid whose passion is chemistry, was forced to learn business by their parents ? He or she could have been a wonderful doctor, but ended up becoming a mediocre businessman. I live in an Asian country, and too often, I see parents’ expectations trample on their kids’ aspirations. We want our kids to be doctors, lawyers, surgeons and all the other “prestige” careers, but we never acknowledge the possibility that they may want something different. We discredit the fact that every kid is fundamentally different, and that every person on this planet is unique. There is nothing wrong with wanting the best for your children, whether that be the best job or the best house. Telling them how we want them to be is important, but being able to nurture them and inspire them to be the the best that they can be, is even more important. Unfortunately, the later is the one our parents are also lacking.

We usually think that because they are kids, they don’t know much. Children are actually the most sincere because they act upon their emotions. Just like how I didn’t tell my mom I hated the piano because I was afraid that she would be sad, most children would follow through with their parents’ choice, because they don’t want to disappoint them. Kids already know from a very young age that they want their parents to be happy above anything else. Unfortunately, some parents mistook their happiness with their’s children’s happiness.

The take away ? Everything I do is should be what I want to do and not an effort to satisfy other people’s expectations. Whatever guidance I give to others should boarden their possibilities to pursue their best-selves, not confine them into the box of unrealistic expectations and feign happiness. Be it children or adults, we need and can reassess our goals so that they align with the real value of a meaningful and properous life for us.

Listen to yourself. What do you truly want ?