Sunday, November 18, 2007

Two Amazing Stories of Reinvention

Are you hesitating to reboot yourself because you’re afraid you might have lost your edge, let your skills go stale, or become unable to do what you used to do?

This happens sometimes. Self doubt creeps in like an unwelcome visitor, displacing self confidence. You’d go out and really do something new and exciting, but … you are worried that you don’t have what it takes any more.

If this description fits you, then consider two amazing people whose stories have just come to my attention. They are Izumi Tateno, 71, and Leon Fleisher, 80. Both were concert pianists who lost the use of their right hands – Tateno through a stroke and Fleisher through a neurological disorder called focal dystonia. Both have become inspirations to millions by learning to play pieces composed for the left hand only. Fleisher has undergone an almost miraculous recovery and can once again play with both hands.

Tateno’s reinvention as a one-handed artist was reported in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 12. During a concert in 2002, he suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right side. He became discouraged and frustrated that he could not quickly recover the use of his right hand, and for a while refused to play music for the left hand.

His son Janne visited him in 2003 and left on his piano some scores for the left hand that he had found in a Chicago music store. One day Tateno began to play one, and soon became so engrossed in the music that he forgot he was playing with just one hand. “That’s when I realized that music was music, whether you play it with one hand, or two hands or three,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “That realization changed me completely.”

“Many people have told me I should just take it easy,” Tateno said. “But I am not interested in taking it easy. I don’t even know how to. I want to perform as I have done in the past 30 years, so I can share my music with others.”

Fleisher’s story was recounted in the New York Times on June 10. He first experienced problems with his right hand in 1964. Within a year his condition had worsened and he could not open the fingers of his right hand. He began to focus his talents on performing the left-hand repertory. Now, after more than 30 years of trying everything from aromatherapy to Zen Buddhism, and finally Botox, he has regained almost full use of his right hand. He says he never doubted that he would someday be able to play again with both hands.

“I just couldn’t accept it,” he said in a New York Times article on June 10. “And I guess my fantasy was that with the same mystery with which it had appeared, it would disappear.”

With all the remedies he has tried, including Botox, the malady has at least become manageable. “I would like to make it clearly understood that I have not been cured of focal dystonia,” he said. “A way has been found to ameliorate the symptoms enough to enable me to play this literature to an extent that is not only enjoyable but also presentable in public.”

If given the chance to rewrite the story of his life, Fleisher said he’s not sure he would change it. “There are forces out there,” he said, “and if you keep yourself open to them, if you go along with them, there are wondrous surprises.”

So let me ask the question again that I asked at the start of this post: Are you hesitating to restart, or start something new, because you think you’ve lost your touch, lost your confidence?

Tell that to Izumi Tateno or Leon Fleisher. They might convince you otherwise.