It’s a Work in Progress…

+ keyboard and piano score Jan 15 16464565_sBack in my student days, as a pianist in music school, learning a significant piece of music and getting it to performance level could take up to a year. The process began with the initial reading of new notes and puzzling out complicated rhythms, and moved on to searching for the flow and expression that turned the notes into music. Finally, there was memorizing the score so securely that nerves and pressure didn’t collapse the performance.

My fellow students and I met periodically in our teacher’s studio and played for each other. Prior to the run-through, we’d usually warn each other, “This is a work in progress…” to acknowledge and explain – and excuse – the piece’s imperfections.

We were aiming for the moment when it all came together – notes, tempo, expression – into a finished, polished performance. This level indicated that the piece was done. The learning days were over – the music was securely in our grasp. It was no longer a “work in progress.”

But as I matured as a musician, I began to realize that, in a certain way, the learning process is never done and that playing a piece was always a work in progress. While a performance might reach a certain level of quality that was the best it was going to be at the time (and there is nothing second-rate about that), returning to the piece a few months or years later brought the discovery that there was more musical gold to mine. Though the basic learning of the piece was still intact, there were always new interpretations and nuances to discover.

Initially, this felt daunting to me. When I had learned piano as a child, I had loved breezing through the student pieces in the Francis Clark series and getting a check mark or a shiny star sticker on the page when the song was done. I liked the feeling of completion and accomplishment. Discovering the mature musician’s ongoing process took a while to adjust to and appreciate.

It also took awhile to realize how I’d transposed my fondness for a done, finished point from music into wanting a point of arrival in my spiritual and personal life. Surely, doing my inner work would eventually resolve the personal issue, shift the negative attitude, transform the troublesome behaviors, and I’d be done – ready for my check mark and shiny star!

Instead, it turned out that life, like music, was a work in progress.

Again, I was daunted – and frustrated and irritated, too! What’s the point of doing my inner work if I’m never done? To add insult to injury, I recognized that, by and large, it’s the same issues – with some variations – that return over and over again. Hadn’t I made any progress through this process?

Well, as I look over the past, I can see that I have made progress. When I think about a “life challenge” that I struggle with – let’s go with a Top Ten favorite – fear – I do see shifts and changes when it surfaces anew. And, encouragingly, just as the pianist who picks up the Moonlight Sonata a few years after having played it doesn’t have to learn the notes from scratch, I’m not approaching this round with fear from the very beginning. I’ve grown, evolved, and learned some good lessons from the last time I worked on it.

Drawing on what I’ve learned in the past, I bring who I am now and all I’ve learned and experienced elsewhere in my life into this next round. I’m not really “back to square one,” even though it might initially feel like I am. And, happily, each learning phase reveals new material and the opportunity to heal and transform more aspects of that life challenge.

Since I now see that there is a progression through these lessons, I’m no longer so discouraged when they come up repetitively. In fact, I am appreciative of having identified them as my life and spiritual challenges. Years ago, I had an intuitive reading in which I was told that worthiness was my primary life lesson (another of my Top Ten), and that this issue would always be with me.

After resisting what felt at the time like a jail sentence – you mean, I’ll be dealing with worthiness all my life? – I came to realize that knowing what my life lesson is informs me whenever I feel myself getting bogged down. When something comes up, I can ask myself, “In this moment, is my holding back, my indecision or discontent, tied to worthiness in some way? Am I feeling unworthy, unappreciated, or undervalued by myself or someone else?”

If the answer is yes, then I know what I’m dealing with and I can begin to sort things out, rather than stay mired in confusion about what’s going on.

So the phrase “it’s a work in progress” no longer sounds like an excuse or a way of cushioning the imperfections in my life. Instead, it sounds like a healthy process. It inspires me to stay in creative mode, to release my old notion of being finished or complete; it inspires me to keep evolving. I don’t actually want to be “done,” I want to keep growing.

Letting go of the idea that we are progressing towards a finite destination, a done point, we can instead embrace the journey itself. Creating ourselves one moment to the next, we are in the center of it all, a blessed work in progress.


  1. I love this piece, Janet. There is a lot of wisdom in it. It helps to reframe the frustration that I can feel when I recognize that I am struggling with the same old demons. It reminds me to take a more careful look and maybe to notice that in fact, that they are not exactly the same. That I have grown and matured, and that I am maybe handling things more skillfully.

    • Spiral Energies says

      Thank you, Judy, for this response to the post. It does help me to realize I’m not in the same place with an issue – especially a familiar one that can seem to take forever to move forward.

  2. Anaya Braswell says

    Thank you Janet for voicing on “paper” something I needed to hear again. I relate to both the music and the idea of a work in progress (inner growth and spiritual too)! It is helpful for me to connect with what my inner self is saying when I am impatient, or not kind at moments for not being “done”? I’ll see what comes clear to my awareness.. Thank you. Have a good day.

    • Spiral Energies says

      Your comment, Anaya, is most appreciated! I’m glad the blog resonated with you. Yes, the wanting to be “done” is so strong sometimes – yet the evolution is a continuous process…

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