Over the past few years I’ve tried to learn how to play piano and also learn how to code. I’ve failed. I half assed learning both instead of focusing on learning one.
A few months ago I realized that I had to make a choice. Did I want to learn piano or how to code? One will be a nice skill to have on the side and the other can take my career to places I can never imagine. One is a timeless medium of expression, the other is the medium of expression of my generation. One has no tangible payoffs, the other has really significant tangible payoffs.
And yet, against my own personal career aspirations, I’ve decided to learn piano. I’ve decided to spend my time, an hour a day, learning a skill that has no expected external payoff.
In not learning to code, I’ve decided to forego learning a really cool and useful skill that has a seemingly unlimited upside. A skill that makes you more marketable for any job.
In not learning to code I’ve turned my back on becoming a “technical cofounder” or a “hacker” (although I can probably call myself a piano hacker and no one would bat an eye).
In not learning to code, I’ve decided to forego (at least right now) respect, admiration, and business interest from friends and acquaintances (if you coders don’t get respect, admiration, and a million people asking you to start businesses with them, please correct me. That’s how I imagine life coder life).
In learning piano, I’ve decided to learn a skill that only has an intrinsic payoff.
In learning piano, I’ve decided to spend my time making incremental improvements that are meaningless to the outside world.
In learning piano, I’ve decided to learn a skill that I can turn to to lift my spirits when times are good and when times are bad.
In learning piano, I’ve decided to learn a skill that allows me to express myself on the most profound levels, and communicate with others beyond the language of words and the language of the body.
Maybe I’ll learn to code a bit on the job. I would really love that. But maybe not. I know it’s not necessary to learn coding to have a successful career, but after spending several years reading TechCrunch, Hacker News and Reddit, it sure seems like you do. After hearing politicians, and business leaders, and billionaires talk about the importance of learning to code, and seeing awesome businesses like Codeacademy pop up, there’s never been more sources of motivation or avenues of learning to pick up the skill of coding.
And yet, I’ve chosen not to. I’ve decided to spend my time jamming on a different keyboard.
I’m not sure what the results will be. I’m not sure I’ll stay committed until I can truly play. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be good at it even if I do.
I’ve decided to learn something that, for a long time, will only be beautiful to me. And maybe one day, when I’m good enough, I’ll be able to share something beautiful back with the world.