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Five Things I’ve Learned in 2020

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Claudio Constantini
Piano Magazine is grateful to pianist Claudio Constantini for accepting the invitation to publish the first post on our blog.

Over the last year, I, with astonishment and disbelief observed how the world changed right in front of me. In the blink of an eye, we had plunged into a global crisis with apparently no hopes for a speedy recovery.
I’m a performing artist, and suddenly I lost all my concerts, all sources of income, and the freedom to move freely outside of the home. I was shocked and paralyzed and had no idea what to do or how I would survive.
Chances are your situation was similar to mine, if not worse.

It took me several days or even weeks to figure out a “survival plan.” But it took me much more time to come to terms with the situation and accept the fact that so many things I had taken for granted were suddenly lost.

Eventually, though, I learned to adopt a positive stand despite the current events and the general negativity that was continually being manifested on social media platforms. Perhaps I had been spending too much time on them…

It was a period of profound changes in my way of living and thinking.
I began to fully comprehend old popular wisdom, which I’d probably heard many times before.

There are more than just five things that I’ve learned during the 2020 lockdown and pandemic. I chose to write about these since you don’t need any previous skills to apply them.
Anyone, anywhere, and in any situation can adopt them as an aid for personal growth and overcome all sorts of obstacles, including worldwide pandemics and lockdowns.

And my five picks are (in no particular order of importance):

1. It turns out I didn’t really need many of those things I had or wanted to have. — Pianist Claudio Constantini

One day I opened my closet drawer and realized that I had many clothes which I wasn’t going to use in months, or perhaps not ever again.
I suddenly felt the same about many other possessions that I had.
Consequently, I started appreciating much more the things that gave real value to my daily life. Some of them were material. Others were more personal or spiritual.
It made me reflect upon how those things I collected during my life tended to be an extension of myself and my state of mind in that particular moment. I thought it necessary not to hold on to any unnecessary things or thoughts that had no specific meaning or contributed little to my present and future well-being.

Similarly, I started noticing that I wasn’t so sad anymore about not performing those “highlight-of-my-career” concerts which had got canceled due to the pandemic. For a long time, I reflected on this since I looked forward to them with so much expectation. I didn’t fully understand why they had suddenly lost part of their meaning.
Eventually, I found it in my heart that what I needed wasn’t important events but meaningful experiences. I started reflecting and figuring out what significant expertise was to me and how I could recreate these experiences more often in my life.

I had been living before thinking that the more “important” a concert was, the more positive effect it would have upon my career and myself. But it so happens that while reflecting on this, I remembered that many of my most cherished moments on stage have happened in intimate and relatively “unimportant” settings, not only in big and “important” concerts.

The similarity between those situations was that I was more willing to offer a part of myself than I was focused on receiving praise from the audience or prestige from the concert. My mindset mattered the most to bring the best out of me in any situation, be it when I played for 3,000 people or 30.

This brings me to the next important thing I’ve learned:

2. Giving is the very essence of my life.

I often came across the concept of “giving uninterestedly” but somehow could never really make it enter my mind. I couldn’t find a way of applying absolute solidarity into my life and sometimes even felt ashamed or less of a person because of this throughout the years.

Finally, upon reflecting on the matter, I understood that no action on my part could ever have an uninterested motivation to it. I always would want to get something out of a situation, either make my efforts result in someone or something.

And I still think and feel the same, only that I suddenly became conscious of which ways I can apply that to my daily life in the most positive way possible.

When I regularly give something positive to someone, be it a smile and a kind gesture to an exhausted store employee who has been working all day, a bit of praise to a person in need of being uplifted, or a meal to a homeless person, I’m actively contributing to the outcome of my surroundings.
You never know how far those actions can go; I couldn’t stress that enough. If I positively affect others, and they, in turn, are inspired to do the same, ultimately, all of this can create a chain of events that makes my surroundings more positive and my life more enjoyable.
That is by no means an uninterested way of giving, only that the interest is for everyone to share and not for one person to keep.

When I perform a concert, I now concentrate my energy on positively affecting people’s lives attending that concert rather than focusing on making an excellent impression to maintain my good reputation or get favorable reviews and more concert proposals.

Giving provides me a direct connection with people and the opportunity to positively affect their lives, even if for a brief moment. My life-long motivation to keep learning and surpassing myself has now a new meaning once I get to openly share a part of that and myself, instead of keeping it all in.

In general, the more I nurture myself, the more I’ve got to give to others. And likewise, the more I give, the more I receive from others.
It’s a win-win situation.

The next thing I’ve understood is that…

3. My happiness is a side-effect of love.

And I´m not talking about romantic love, although that could be said of it as well.

Living life with love as my main principle—that’s what I’m talking about.
Unconditionally loving my life and the circumstances surrounding it allow me to make the most out of every situation. The great Polish/American pianist Arthur Rubinstein said once: “I have learned that if you love life, life will love you back.”

If I adopt love as a principle in my life and learn how to own and love every aspect of my life, including the negative ones, I will create different states of happiness.
I learned that happiness comes to me from gratefulness for the positive things I have in my life and from realizing the negative aspects, which I now aspire to improve upon more consciously and generously.

When I work with love towards achieving my goals, happiness unexpectedly appears in the process every time.

If I nourish the people I care about with love, I receive love back, which gives me great joy.

Love is a limitless source of energy and has become the motor of my life.

Next point:

4. Even if there are things out of my control, my outcome is solely up to me.

The pandemic and lockdown result from a virus that most of us can’t do much about. This is out of my control.
The actions of other people also are. I can’t expect people to act or do things according to my way of thinking or feeling.

What I can choose is how to take or confront any situation I’m given.

Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist, Auschwitz survivor, and founder of logotherapy, observed how life or death on concentration camps depended on the mindset of the prisoners. Those who survived were the ones who found a reason to keep on living and fighting every day. Those who gave up usually lasted only a few more days before passing.

This extreme situation tells me that I can either concentrate on the negative aspect of it or nurture the positive side and grow more robust and better out of it in any challenging case.

On the other hand, the successful completion of my goals results from the procedure I undertook to complete them. Sure, there may be obstacles, but it’s up to me whether I find a way to overcome them or not.
This brings me to the next point:

5. We have all the tools we need to succeed.

Here I use the “we” word for the first time because I believe this to be true for everyone, not just myself.

I remember once when I was about twenty years old; I wanted to learn a very demanding work for my bachelor’s degree exam at the conservatory: Johannes Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
I immediately told it to my teacher at the time, and she ordered me to prepare the full concerto so I could bring it memorized, all 45 minutes of it, to our next lesson, which was to be one week later.

I thought to myself, “that’s impossible!”
Nevertheless, I obediently nodded in acceptance.

One week later, I played the full concerto for her, by heart, surpassing all my expectations, and giving one of the finest performances I’ve ever done of that work, right there and just for her.
I had the tools to do it, but previously I didn’t believe I did! My teacher will probably never know just how much that moment meant in my life.

I’ve had many revealing moments about the things I can or cannot do. I discovered that I was perfectly capable of doing them if I pursue them with the right motivation.

Often, I’ve been paralyzed by what I thought I can or cannot do during my life. And the period of deep reflection and self-learning in 2020 has made me realize that we have so much more in us than what we usually think we do. I’ve learned this through the many people I’ve studied about and through my very own experience, achieving things that I never thought I could do.

In case of doubt, the best proof that we can do something is that someone else has already done it before.
And if what I’m set to accomplish hasn’t been done yet, I remind myself that standard batteries didn’t exist before Alessandro Volta in 1799, nor had anyone run 100 meters in less than 10 seconds before Jim Hines in 1968. I could endlessly go on with thousands of examples.

Coda — Pianist Claudio Constantini

I’ve learned and written about some of these things that might have seemed obvious to you before, as they also appeared to me. But I discovered that even clear things could be ignored or misunderstood if you don’t have the right mindset and experience to understand them fully.

I genuinely wish you have been able to reflect upon the things you’ve learned for yourself during these challenging times and have discovered the essential things in life.
We are all on our very own and unique journey, and that journey is not meant to be straightforward.
Thankfully enough, in my opinion, since that would be quite boring, wouldn’t it?

I want to end this post with a quote by Tim Ferris which keeps inspiring me:

The opposite of love is indifference, and the opposite of happiness is boredom.

Pianist Claudio Constantini holds a unique career as a performer of two instruments, the piano and the bandoneon, as well as being a composer in demand. Born and raised in Lima (Perú) into a musician’s family, he has performed in some of the world’s top venues and over 30 countries. He was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2019 and won a Global Music Award in 2021. During 2020, he remained active off-stage by producing one music video every week for his YouTube channel, Claudio Constantini Music. You can also follow him on Instagram, @claudioconstantinimusic. He currently lives in Madrid (Spain) with his wife, who is also a musician, and his two-year-old daughter.

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