The Benefits of Being a Quitter
About four years ago I took a notion to try and learn to play the Banjo. I tentatively dipped my toe in the blue-grass river and took a loan of a friends 5 string banjo. I had played guitars on and off since I was a teenager so I had some skillz regarding stringed instruments. But the banjo was something new and different. I decided that I wanted to do it right. No short cuts. Learn the theory, learn the picking patterns, learn the chords and progress in a way that helped me know what I was doing. I had no interest in learning individual tunes, that would come later once I had the technique and skills built up.
Eventually what I was doing started to sound like a tune and I felt that I was ready for a commitment. I returned the borrowed Banjo and set about sourcing one of my own. This involved many hours of research regarding pitch and tone. Variations in Banjo style. Solid backed or open. The skin type of the banjo head. I pretty much over considered every detail and eventually launched myself into the seedy underworld of the second hand banjo market. I paid what I was happy to pay and my beautiful, new to me, Banjo arrived.
I plucked and I twanged and I started to get a little better, but only a little better. I spent hours sitting alone looking at books, practicing picking patterns trying to improve. You tube helped a bit but again the improvement was marginal. We moved house 4 times since I brokered a deal on my dream Banjo. Each time we moved that instrument felt a little bit heaver. My own failure to learn and improve added to the heaviness of the instrument. A couple of weeks ago I was sitting staring at the monolith, my very own Everest in the corner and a thought occurred to me.
Why was I trying to do something that was clearly making me miserable? I took a few pictures of the beast and wrote an ad for an on-line market place that I hoped would attract some attention and get the thing sold.
“Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, John Hickman and Alan Munde are just some of the bluegrass greats that I failed at emulating with my banjo picking skills. I am finally calling it quits – my fingering technique has done nothing but cause frustration in the house and it is time for me to leave my banjo string alone. The instrument is in great condition and produces a lovely rich sound. Included in the sale is the Banjo, guitar tuner, and two books “Bluegrass Banjo Basics” by Dennis Caplinger and Hal Leonards “Banjo Scale Finder”
People were interested and I had the usual tyre kickers sending me low-ball offers but last Friday evening I had an offer that just about reached what I was willing to sell for. I had a choice take the offer and move on or continue to suffer at the hands of the “sunk cost fallacy“. My problem was I had already spent many, many hours of my life trying to play this thing. I had also made a financial investment and I was reluctant to admit to myself that I had made a mistake. But I took the offer and on Saturday morning money changed hands and I said goodbye to my banjo dreams.
I feel like a weight has been lifted from my life, I can now walk into my sitting room without being confronted by my own failings as a musician. I feel wonderful and my only regret it that I had not done this a few years and two house moves ago.
For what it is worth this is my advice, if you really have a choice and something is making you miserable it really is OK to quit.
And for the people who follow my blog because I post a lot of stuff about film photography don’t panic, the pictures were all taken with the Mamiya RB67 that I bought with my Banjo money – its the circle of life.
Film: Kodak Tri-X
Dev: Agfa Studional R09 1+ 50 (14mins 20c)