I have been doing this for 30 years…

We are about to get the inside of our house painted.  As you know, that is not a cheap proposition, so we went to the trouble to research painters, check references and get quotes from four of the best we could find.  I was surprised to find that their quotes were all over the map. 

The last quote was given by a highly recommended painter that I spent a bit of time talking to.  The first thing he told me was how slow it was and how he was thinking about shutting down his business. He was a nice guy, but when he sent his quote, it was the highest of them all. In fact, it was twice as much as the smallest quote and over $2,000 more than the next highest one.

As a courtesy, I sent him a quick email telling him politely that we had much lower quotes from other painters and I gave him the range of quotes.  I told him I was just giving him information that might help his estimating process.  If I was in the painting business, that is exactly the kind of information I would want to have.

No good deed goes unpunished.  I got back a snippy email telling me that he had been in the painting business for 30 years, was worth the extra cost, and was fully confident that his estimating process needed no adjustments.

I didn’t write him back because I don’t have time for that.  It is not my responsibility to fix his business unless he starts paying me as a consultant.  But I did mention it to the person who recommended him.  When I did, he started laughing and asked “Did he say something about having been in the painting business for 30 years?”

“I have been doing X for 30 years” is an attitude that will kill your opportunity to learn.  Using that line is cop out–an (usually) arrogant shield against improvement.  In the case of this painter, his estimating almost certainly does need tweaking.  If his estimating doesn’t, the way he presents his business definitely does because he gave me no reason why I should pay so much more for his service. 

But don’t expect him to admit that.  Instead, he will go on struggling for work while hiding behind his 30 years of experience.

Make no mistake about it; this attitude is not limited to painters.  Regardless of the skill, we can all fall into this trap.  That includes musicians in general and church musicians in particular.

Those of you that are church pianists probably don’t have this problem or you would not be reading this blog.  But we all need to guard against this attitude.  Not one of us has reached a level where we don’t need to learn more.

By the way, I have been playing the piano in church for 30 years.  (No joke!)  That sounds strange since I am still in my 30’s but it is true.  But if you think I can give you a definitive guide for church music, I assure you I can’t.  I am still learning myself.

Never stop learning.  That is not to say that you need to be willing to learn from everyone.  I am not; I think you can be somewhat particular.  For example, I have little interest in learning from someone that is not still learning themselves.  And in regards to music, I want to learn from people who are better musicians than me in some ways. (It is not hard to find many people that fall into that category.)

I suppose the “30 years” attitude trap increases as you get older.  I hope I never succumb to it.  I want to be like my former mentor John Innes who is still actively learning after many decades as pianist/organist for Billy Graham. 

For those of you who like me have played in church for 30+ years, join me in resolving not to use the “I have been doing this for 30 years” line.  It just gets in the way of your development.