My life changed yesterday. In fact, it’s been changing for a while but now everything is brand new.

The “change” began when we moved to Amsterdam, and I started as a freelancer. I became responsible for my own business. The learning curve was steep, but I managed.

Then I took over the responsibility for our sourdough starter. That meant caring for it, monitoring it, refreshing it, and baking the bread. That led to baking banana bread, then zucchini bread and and even being responsible for most of the cooking in the house.

Last week, I did my taxes myself (with the encouragement, guidance and emotional support of a very patient friend).

And then yesterday I did two amazing things. Not one: two.

Trilling and drilling

The first was take a singing lesson. I’ve had a hate-hate relationship with singing ever since I was kicked out of choir in Grade 5 for putting everyone around me out of key. (Oh, how I wish that weren’t true).

That rejection not only dashed my childhood dreams of fronting a top 40 band, but it proved that I’m a tonedeaf and dreadful singer. Ever since, the thought of singing has been a real stresspoint for me.

In my early 20s, I got a half hour of singing lessons each week at acting school. My very patient teacher built my confidence up a little bit, but – though I can mask it – I’m still a fearful (and toneless) singer.

However, last night a friend – who’s an opera singer and a vocal coach – gave me a singing lesson. It turns out that there’s hope for me.

Though I was nervous and apologetic at the beginning of the session, moments later I was shocked to find out that an entire hour had passed, and I was trilling up and down scales with virtually none of the familiar feelings of shame and awkwardness. Of course, it wasn’t as if my singing was great – or even good – but I enjoyed it, and those feelings of shame and anxiety shrank.

singing kids

When I got home afterwards, I was flush with energy.

So, even though I’m not handy (I have zero DIY skills – I consider putting together any IKEA product a major achievement), I did an actual handyman chore. Drilling into our concrete ceiling, affixing a bracket, and successfully hanging a blind.

My sense of accomplishment and satisfaction increased.

Now, I know that neither taking a singing lesson nor hanging a blind are huge accomplishments. And yet, I’m still feeling excited about them the next day. My two-part day of achievement has left me with two major takeaways:

  • One, learning to do a thing is a productivity multiplier. Shrinking my discomfort zone and building up some ability in some areas that were previously black holes seems to be having a knock-on effect.
  • Secondly, our sense of self can be a negative force. Thinking I’m someone who sucks at singing and doesn’t know which end of the hammer to hold has created a reinforcement loop; every off-key karaoke, or failed chore has convinced me I shouldn’t engage in these activities, until I just gave up.

And with those realisations, everything is changing; my suspicion that DIY tasks – even probably things like installing a light fixture or repairing a lock, can probably be learned. Singing too. In fact, who knows what might be achievable in a world where I don’t self-identify as an incompetent ninny? 

Because, for the most part, it seems that the only thing that’s been holding me back has been me.