I got a lot out of playing the piano when I was a kid -- not least that I believe in it for its own sake. I never liked the contrived stories of how One Kid's Music Brought About World Peace Or Whatever, because for me playing the piano well, making music and not just thumping through the notes, was a goal in itself. It wasn't about Bringing About World Peace Or Whatever any more than reading a book was about Bettering My Mind. So there was that, and there still is.
But when I was a kid, there was also the fact that I could work at my own pace, and my piano teacher didn't make noise about it. I knew that I was improving more quickly and spending more intense time on it than the other kids in my class at school, but it didn't have to matter one way or the other, because the piano was just mine. It had nothing to do with them. And my piano teacher understood that while her praise was nice, I was not taking piano lessons to earn praise, I was taking piano lessons to learn to play the piano. This seems really obvious, and yet a lot of the kids around me were extremely praise-motivated, and so it was hard to get a lot of the adults around me to let go of it. (Not my parents, thank heavens. My parents were -- are -- extremely committed to honest praise. So if I'd thumped and sweated my way through some poor fugue, my parents would say reasonable human being things like, "That's getting better," or, "It sounds like you're working pretty hard on that," rather than, "Wow!!! Excellent!!! You're a star!!!" or some other godawful grown-up praise, or, heaven help us, "That's a very hard piece for someone your age!!!" I never kicked grown-ups who said things like that in their bright and cheerful voices, but they fell substantially in my regard.)
And it wasn't just my piano teacher. When I was around other adults who were music teachers or musicians, for things like the PMI competitions in the area, they knew that I was an above-average little amateur. They knew that I was a moderately musical kid with a quick brain and reasonably dexterous fingers. And they did not leap from that to gushing that I should be a concert pianist. Because I shouldn't, and we all knew I shouldn't. And it was okay not to want to. It was okay with all these adult professionals that I wanted to play the piano well for myself and only myself. This was a motivation they could and did respect. At school it wasn't like that. At school I couldn't do well at anything without people leaping on me and telling me that I should become a doctor or a linguist or an economist or whatever it was. I maintain that it was equally obvious within a few minutes of conversation that I would be remarkably ill-suited for any of those professions. I had an enthusiastic, energetic competence in the related school subjects, and that is not at all the same thing as passion or brilliance. Some professions are possible without passion or brilliance, and some are remarkably ill-advised. And it was such a relief to be around the music teachers and the musicians, who knew it and were willing to admit it.
Right now it's very different. One of the things I'm getting out of playing the piano again, aside from playing the piano itself, which is important, is that I can have a fair amount of confidence that if I practice, I will improve fairly steadily. I have no idea how quickly the PT is going to work, and while we see no signs of impending plateau, there may be one. But with the piano, I know that I will, if I practice, get back to the level I want. There's so much I can't control in my life right now, but I can by God count sixteenth notes for half an hour a day. We are back to the all Bach, all the time program. And it feels good.