I’m so happy that Dory’s mantra “just keep swimming” has gone viral.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about you clearly don’t have a child or grandchild under the age of ten. Finding Nemo, just one of Pixar’s smash box-office hits from 2003, features a cute little fish Nemo who gets separated from his father. Nemo spends the movie searching for his dad, together with his scattered-brained but loyal friend Dory (voiced by Ellen Degeneres). Dory repeats over and over again, as a mantra, “just keep swimming,” almost more to herself than to Nemo.
Just keep swimming is great. It’s upbeat, it’s forward-focused. It’s like all the other inspirational quotes out there: “keep the faith,” “keep on keeping on,” “never give up.”
Beautiful. Except sometimes it’s really bad advice.
This year I got all motivational and decided I was going to hit that bucket list and defy aging and take guitar lessons. I’ve been playing piano since I’m a wee lass and I’ve always envied those guitar-toting hippies with that instrument slung over their back like a wicked accessory. You cannot strap a piano over your back. And no, a keyboard is NOT the same, since you were about to ask. (I know you were.)
So I had to stop saying “I wish I knew how to play guitar” and take lessons. I texted my friend Brynna Fish, a guitar teacher and asked her. We picked a time and date and kadima! We were on it.
I picked it up quickly. I enjoyed the sound. I had a great teacher. I looked up songs on my newly installed “guitar tabs” app like a boss and practiced regularly. But then I started to lose steam. I didn’t like having an extra thing to do every day. At the risk of sounding shallow, I didn’t like the way my calloused fingers felt. At all. And at the risk of sounding snooty, I didn’t like feeling like a beginner.
I’m proficient on the piano. It’s almost effortless for me, like something I’ve been doing my whole life. BECAUSE I’VE BEEN DOING IT MY WHOLE LIFE. It’s hard to eat humble pie and be a newbie at something musical when you’re used to feeling like the musical pro.
But I’m a secret Dory. I want to just keep swimming. I hate to be a quitter. I pride myself on being persistent and reliable and seeing things through to the end. But here’s what I’ve learned: some things should be quit.
Life is short and there are things that just don’t serve us. If I’m choosing to spend my time on something, it should either fill me up with joy, or be the right thing to do. Maybe even both. Tenacity to things that are not serving us, whether due to misplaced pride or some robotic fidelity to “just keep swimming,” is, frankly, dumb.
The single greatest regret of the dying, according to palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware, is this: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. How many times do we just keep swimming because we think we should, never examining where these habits or practices are taking us?
So, I quit guitar. But I didn’t tell anyone.