On Learning to Take a Helping Hand

four hands playing piano

four hands playing piano

The following post is part of our new column, Poorly-Guarded Secrets from the Soundfly Mentors’ Guide. Written by mentor and VP of Learning & Curriculum Development Mahea Lee, this series is intended to assist, inspire, and offer a peek into the types of discussions we have behind-the-scenes here at Soundfly. 

Even the most productive and organized among us are burdened by the weight of low-priority tasks that we push aside to focus on more urgent matters. They gnaw at the back of our minds like yellowing wallpaper or tell-tale hearts. I know that’s pretty melodramatic, but you get the idea.

The need to catch up on email correspondence is a popular affliction, as is the list of DIY issues around our homes that cause seemingly minor inconveniences.

Speaking of homes, I’m reminded of my old place in Los Angeles. It was a humble, but spacious townhouse situated at the meeting point of two suburban neighborhoods and a fast-growing arts district. I lived in #12, at the back end of the complex, away from the busy street. It shared a wall with only one other unit, which was occupied by a kind, middle-aged couple who had been there for over 30 years.

For so many reasons, I loved it.

Like all old-ish buildings, it has its issues, but none of them were too extreme. I spotted most of them when I first toured the place, and eagerly signed the lease anyway, figuring I’d take care of them once we moved in.

For the most part, I did.

But as the novelty of a new address wore off, the urgency surrounding all those little projects did too. Compared to the more time-sensitive priorities of day-to-day life, they just didn’t carry much importance. I suppose that’s how I ended up going three years without mending the rip in the lower-left corner of the screen door that led out to the balcony.

Not a few days, not a couple of months — three whole years.

“I realized the problem had only seemed minor. In reality, it had been weighing on me for quite some time.”

Then one day, my dad visited and asked the sort of question that falls facetious from the mouths of customer service representatives and sincerely from the faces of so many fathers: “What can I fix for you?”

The job required a quick trip to the hardware store and twenty minutes of effort on his part. For me, it took a coffee run and the willingness to accept someone else’s help.

Standing back to admire the new screen, I realized the problem had only seemed minor. In reality, it had been weighing on me for quite some time.

For three years, I walked passed that door with the intention of getting around to fixing it. For three years, I handled flies that snuck in on hot days and couldn’t find their way back out. For three years, I chose to run the air conditioner or light candles when the place felt stuffy, rather than just opening the sliding glass door.

For three years, I avoided the issue because it didn’t seem to matter. For three years, I chose not to ask for help because it didn’t seem to be anyone else’s problem.

“If there’s something eating away at you that doesn’t seem to matter, it’s probably more important than you realize.”

Though one issue had been handled, I still had to catch up on emails — something my dad could not have helped me with. But, by taking one thing off the bottom of my to-do list, he made all the other tasks feel a little less daunting and increased my chances of getting more done.

If there’s something eating away at you that doesn’t seem to matter, it’s probably more important than you realize. You may think it’s not anyone else’s concern, but it might be affecting things that are. Most importantly, if it’s weighing on you, those who care about you likely want to see it solved.

Being willing to take someone up on their offer to help doesn’t have to feel like an admission of personal defeat. In life, as in home maintenance, we all have different strengths and weaknesses. What I failed to do for years (in part because it likely would have taken me days), my father tackled in under an hour.

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+ Musicians of all types can learn at their own pace using Soundfly’s in-depth online courses, but for those in need of something customized to one’s exact goals, we offer 1-on-1 mentorship sessions with a professional lasting four weeks.

In response to the thoughts I’m sure some of you are having, the optics of my dad fixing something that I (an independent and empowered, college-educated, adult woman) hadn’t dealt with myself aren’t lost on me.

Accepting assistance can be a humbling experience, especially when it’s unsolicited. Maybe, like me, your ability to be self-sufficient is a big part of your identity. Maybe the idea of reaching out for support seems much harder than struggling on your own.

While I obviously believe in skill development and the pursuit of new knowledge, experiences like that screen door incident have taught me that there are times when I can learn far more by observing an expert than I would trying to tough it out alone.

Also, remember that sometimes, refusing assistance can actually be hurtful, while accepting it gives you an opportunity to acknowledge someone else’s knowledge, abilities, and kindness.

That isn’t to say I did my dad any favors by “allowing” him to fix my door or anything, but it did create an opportunity for me to communicate that I appreciate him and, in spite of my know-it-all tendencies, understand he possesses valuable skills I don’t have.

I wouldn’t ask him to orchestrate a piece for woodwinds or edit the Soundfly podcast for me. I’m sure he could eventually excel in either of those areas if he wanted to, but those are things that are already in my own wheelhouse and asking my dad to do them for me would undoubtedly be taking advantage of his desire to support his firstborn kid.

Having been on the other side of things in similar situations, I can tell you that there are times when getting the chance to use knowledge that would otherwise be collecting dust is really gratifying. I love when someone in the Soundfly community Slack group asks about a topic I haven’t thought about in years. It gives me a reason to reach for my bookshelf and revisit information that’s just been taking up space in my head.

I know my role in your life is specific and distant, but if I can, I’d like to make your musical goals a little less daunting. If you need someone to repair a screen door, there’s not much I can do, but if you have questions about harmonic theory, need arranging suggestions, or want an opinion about some lyrics you’ve written, you’re always welcome to reach out.

If you’re a Soundfly subscriber, you can find me in the community Slack group during my weekly office hour, which usually happens Monday at 4:00 pm EST. If not, you can email me and the rest of the Soundfly team at [email protected] and we’ll do our best to help out!

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