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The Best Time to Start

“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what is in Fortune's control and abandoning what lies in yours.” - Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

Reflecting on the past and regretting the choices we made is typical for most people. For musicians, this can mean being disappointed we didn’t take our childhood music lessons more seriously, or wishing we had started making music years earlier. Perhaps equally as common is the tendency to put something we want to do off until later, like a musical goal or project—usually because now doesn’t feel like the right time, or we think we’re missing a vital piece of the puzzle. But dwelling on the past, or procrastinating on what’s important, deprives us of being able to start at the best time: Right now.

While there is certainly value in evaluating our previous actions to see where we can make improvements, lamenting on not working on music earlier is a waste of time. As Thomas Frank explains in his video A video for anyone feeling behind in life, this is like a “reverse wishful thinking style of procrastination.” When we procrastinate, we put something off for our future selves to deal with. Instead, with this mindset, we are placing the burden on our past selves. “In either case,” Thomas says, “we don’t want our present selves to deal with the hard work required to get the results—we just want the results.”

Waiting for the future can be equally as detrimental to our musical lives and experience. There are an infinite number of factors and circumstances we might like to be different, believing this will make it easier to work on music. But the truth is, there will always be reasons not to do something. By procrastinating, you’re banking on a future that will not only carry its own obstacles, but is also not guaranteed. As the Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote in On the Shortness of Life, “...putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future.”

Though the saying goes, “The first best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is right now,” I would argue for the present always being the best time. As Marcus Aurelius reminds himself throughout Meditations, the past and the future don’t belong to us; we only ever have control over what we do in this moment. Pick up the instrument you’ve been wanting to learn, or take more seriously the one you already know how to play. Write a song, or a short composition, even if you don’t have the gear or skills you would like. There really is no time like the present—because it’s all we have.


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