Uu: Ukulele, Do You Really Need One, Or Do You Already Have What You Need?

During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.


Uu: Ukulele
Do You Really Need One, Or Do You Already Have What You Need?

It was early spring, I’d been outside at Portland’s Saturday Market surrounded by art and craft all day, and I was cold. I ended up inside a music store with my husband and best friend, strumming an ukulele. Maybe I picked it up to have a reason to sit down and get warm. The salesperson said I was a natural. It felt peaceful sitting there strumming. A few weeks later, my husband presented me with the ukulele for my birthday.

Until that day in the store, I’d never strummed an ukulele or anything like it. Almost immediately, I dreaded practicing. It wasn’t fun. It never felt warm and peaceful like it did that day inside the store. And, I had no idea what I was doing, especially without any prior experience.

Years later, the ukulele tucked in a corner untouched, I realize the instrument was a quick fix for what I really longed for but could not see. I longed to practice. To sit down to my craft like an artisan and work, render, and compose. For whatever reason, I completely overlooked my lifelong loves of writing and drawing and chose something I had no prior interest or experience with. I’ve come close to doing this again with a long board, roller skates, Rosetta Stone for Spanish, and chess.

All of these things require hours of regular practice to reach a basic ability. Nothing wrong with learning something new, but where would I find the hours, weeks, months of time to acquire these skills? Most importantly, what about the things I’d already been practicing?

There’s a popular idea about 10,000 hours of practice to reach mastery or “greatness” (see Q). The idea can be intimidating if you’re holding an ukulele for the first time in your life and calculating how you’ll fit in this many hours.

Instead, look back at your life. What have you already been practicing? What hours might you have already logged? Look all the way back to childhood. What did you spend your free hours doing? What were you practicing?

Look carefully, because you might miss the obvious like I did. Here’s what I mean: I have boxes and boxes of journals that I’ve been writing in since I was eight years old. A few years ago, I sorted through another huge box my mom had kept of projects I’d completed from age five to six or so. Do you know what 70% of that box contained? Books. Books that I’d written and illustrated, stapled together and titled. (Not always in an order that made any sense, or with letters that could be read, but they were definitely books.)

Around this same time, a friend from high school showed me a book I’d made her for her fifteenth birthday. I’d forgotten all about it until I saw it, and then I remembered working diligently and happily in my room for many, many hours writing and illustrating this elaborate story about frogs. Never once during that time did I even consider how long my book idea might take to make, how it might fail, or whether it was worth the effort. I simply dove in and made a gift for my friend, who is adoringly possessive about it today, letting me hold it only long enough to thumb through and then taking it back.

Apparently, I’ve been writing, illustrating, and “publishing” my own books for decades.

Whether I regarded it as such or not, I’ve been practicing my crafts most of my life. Now I engage with them deliberately with daily effort, appreciating and commemorating my time at the desk. When I think of the 10,000 hour rule, I look back on all these years of practice and feel encouraged and dedicated.

If the ukulele ever sings to me and seems like something I would enjoy learning, then I’ll find a way to make the time. For now, however, I have the tools I need and the devotion to keep using them daily and honing my craft, the one that may have chosen me as much as I’ve chosen it.



I write and illustrate stationery, cards, customized snail mail (yes, you can receive handwritten and illustrated letters in your mail!!), coloring books, and more. My business name is "Carrot Condo." After teaching English for 15 years (gasp!), I am now a full-time parent and part-time artist slowly, but steadily, building a creative business and life. You can read more at carrotcondo.com or see my products at etsy.com/shop/CarrotCondo. Thanks for your interest and support!!
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14 Responses to Uu: Ukulele, Do You Really Need One, Or Do You Already Have What You Need?

  1. Just catching up on some blogs from the A to Z Challenge…and I just read another one about 10,000 hours of practice to excel at what you do. It is so true that we need to keep working at what we love to do and that there is no “instant success.”

    • TRISTA says:

      True. For me, not only has “success” taken longer than my impatient self would have preferred, the steady daily practice has revised my definition of success. I’m starting to see the value in “art for art’s sake,” daily practice being its own reward in spite of whatever other measures of success we might have.

  2. EcoCatLady says:

    Yes! I LOVE this! It always puzzles me when people go fishing for a hobby instead of doing the things that they have a natural interest in and affinity for. I have this friend who’s an amazing fingerstyle blues guitar player. He’s been a blues fan all his life and has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the genre.

    But for some mysterious reason he’s decided that what he really needs to do is to “get disciplined” about music, so he’s taken up classical piano. He’s been busy forcing himself to practice every day and repeatedly talks about how hard it all is – and honestly when you listen to him play the piano it sounds like he’s wearing handcuffs – there’s no joy whatsoever in it!

    Honestly, I don’t understand it. It’s like if he’s not suffering then it doesn’t count, or something like that.

    • TRISTA says:

      Yet another great insight from you! I need more time to think this through because you described something I really relate to … it’s almost as if we don’t believe in our talent/craft, or as if we’re afraid to whole-heartedly pursue it, so we look for other things, more “serious” or “important” things. It’s like a really complicated form of procrastination. —That’s the closest I can get to my thought for now; I’ll keep working on this, but what you described is so familiar.

  3. Sue says:

    On the other hand…there is the Jack of all Trades…who thrives on diversity, new challenges, and a wide range of skills and knowledge. It’s of no consequence that they are not masterful at everything, but well rounded in most things. What an interesting and creative way of writing about the Letter U…I think you have the tools you need to hone your craft. Me, I’m a Jack!
    Congratulations for making it through the fourth week. I am visiting from Co-Host AJ Lauer’s Team.
    Sue at CollectInTexas Gal
    AtoZ 2015 Challenge
    Minion for AJ’s wHooligans

    • TRISTA says:

      That’s a good point. Maybe I shouldn’t so quickly dismiss the idea of “mastery.” There’s dabbling or being a Jack or Jill of all trades and exploring all kinds of creative pursuits, and then there’s committing to some form of creative work daily which limits the scope of work. I feel stretched just trying to fit in some time to work on my drawings without giving up writing time. Hmmm, your comment is making me think. Thanks!

  4. Alex Hurst says:

    Totally agree here. I’m trying not to get distracted from writing anymore (as we’ve discussed here this month.) I’ve been writing books since I could type! And that was at a very young age. That was actually the topic of my first AZ post in 2014. You can see scans of the work I did there: http://alex-hurst.com/2014/04/01/a-is-for-author/

    • TRISTA says:

      Oh my! I totally recognize these books! Yours are a bit more professional than mine, but that’s exactly what I have stuffed in a folder in the basement. When I get some time, hopefully late next week, I want to read your 2014 A-to-Z. You’re making me realize that another important thing for me to do in my daily writing efforts is to return to that child-era enthusiasm. I can see it in your drawings as well. We never doubted we could make our books, right? We just made them … on thin paper from an office conference room. There’s a lesson here I need to keep pondering.

      • Alex Hurst says:

        Aw, that’s sweet of you, and yes. I think it’s something born of creativity before expectation. That sweet spot of all present-moment mentality before future-worth recognition.

  5. dropscone says:

    I know this is besides the point of the story, but you can learn the basic chords to the uke very quickly. I’ve had hours of fun from my ukulele from almost the moment I picked it up (once I got it in tune, anyway).

    • TRISTA says:

      No, this is not beside the point at all, and thanks for reading!! What you say here is what everyone tells me about the ukulele, but so far, for me, it’s been laborious. You should have seen me trying to simply learn how to strum. My friend sat with me for about an hour trying to get me to loosen up my hand and whatnot. I was trying so hard and making such an effort, and I think it was like what Eco Cat Lady says … I was not embracing the creative work I truly wanted to do, so even the sweet ukulele became a giant hurdle and no fun at all. (I suspect I will return to the little uke eventually … in a few years maybe.)

  6. dropscone says:

    Aha! The way I got round strum anxiety was to not do that for a while! Now you mention it, it all comes back to me that I had the same problem of getting hung up with the strumming and keeping a rhythm, so while I was getting comfortable with the chords and only playing songs for my own pleasure I decided to just play the chords once or twice so I could keep the tune going while I was singing.

  7. Rose L. says:

    You could play it at COMPOSE! You should get the info out on COMPOSE on your website!

  8. Pingback: #AtoZChallenge 2015 Reflections | Alex Hurst

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