Beware of Trojan Horses

I don’t mean computer viruses here, nor literal wooden horses delivered unexpectedly to your door. ‘Trojan horse’ in this case is a metaphor for ‘things which you think are good for you but are actually bad.’

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Modern society constantly bombards us with marketing and cultural messages. If we are not careful, our world view can very quickly end up being ‘hijacked’ by external forces.

How can our mind get hijacked, you might ask? It’s quite simple really:

We get used to accepting that certain beliefs or behaviours are desirable and good for us, simply because everyone says they are.

While at least some of those beliefs or behaviours will indeed be positive, many others can be considered ‘trojan horses.’

If you’re reading this article, you’re most probably a guitar player or other musician, or interested in becoming one. I want to discuss one very common trojan horse which I have seen destroy the development of many a hopeful musician. Although I will be talking in terms of how this trojan horse can affect your musical development, it can apply to any other activity which requires developing skills over a long period of time.

So, here it is:


What? Vacations, a ‘trojan horse’? Seems strange if not downright crazy, right? Who doesn’t wish for vacations, especially long ones?

See, if you’re thinking that, it’s probably your hijacked mind talking, because you’ve been programmed to think that long vacations are desirable and good for you, if not even a ‘mark of success.’ And that might even be true, to a degree. But here’s where long vacations can be detrimental (and by ‘long’ I mean anything longer than a two-week period or so):

If you’re trying to cultivate high levels of skill and / or achieve significant success in any endeavour, long vacations are often one of the worst things you could do.

Here’s just one true case study which happened to a student of mine, as way of an example.

The student in question had been taking lessons with me for around three months or so and was elated at the progress he had already achieved. His enthusiasm was sky high, and he told me outright that he had never been so engaged and eager to keep learning and improving on guitar.
I was sure that if the student stayed on the path, he could do great things on guitar. So far so good.

Until a pothole appeared in his path: he got married and went away on honeymoon for about a month and a half.

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Of course, he had already told me several weeks earlier that he would need to be away for some time, but he also said that he didn’t want to lose the momentum he had gained and that he intended to resume lessons right after his return.

Well, as the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men….

A couple weeks after the date on which he was due to return, I still hadn’t heard from him, so I contacted him myself to give him a little push. However, having already seen this same pattern unfold many times before, I already feared the worse. Unfortunately, my fears were confirmed. His response was that after his return from vacation, he just felt too overwhelmed with work (he’s a very busy lawyer) and life in general to even contemplate having the time for guitar lessons, at least until ‘things calmed down a bit’.

I warned him that if he waited any longer, he would just lose his spark completely, and that waiting for the ‘right time’ never works. There’s always something else demanding our time, effort and attention. Unless we take the bull by the horns and make time for whatever we want to do, life will always throw something at us and get in the way.

Unfortunately, my predictions came true. He allowed himself to be swamped by external events and that was the end of his guitar playing life. Such a sad waste of potential. I have no doubt that in time he will regret his decision.

Here’s something I want you to burn in your consciousness and never forget for as long as you live:

“I’ll get back to it when the time is right” is the epitaph under which dreams crawl to die forever.

If you’ve ever used those words yourself – “I’ll get back to it when the time is right” – you were just lying to yourself. If you take the passive approach of always allowing other events, demands and priorities to monopolize your life, the ‘right time’ to get back on the horse will never appear. YOU have to make it happen.

Here’s something else I want you to burn in your consciousness: SUCCESS IS A HABIT, AND MOMENTUM IS KEY.

This, in a nutshell, is why taking long periods of vacation can be very damaging to any long-term endeavour you might have.

Once you lose that momentum – that habit of making time to work towards something you want to achieve – it can be extremely hard to gain it back. Life will get in the way. Other people and other things demanding your time, resources and energy will appear over the horizon, seemingly out of nowhere. After a while you will be asking yourself just how you ended up being so overwhelmed, and what happened to those cherished dreams you once had.

The best way to not let this happen, is to do your utmost to avoid any major upheavals in your normal routine that could destroy forever that delicate focus and momentum so essential to success. Hence, why I firmly believe long periods of vacation can do more harm than good.

Don’t fall for the glossy adverts and the smiling photos which your friends splash all over social media whenever they go on vacation. You’re only seeing what they want you to see, and no one will willingly show you the negative side.

What most people will not show you, is how they actually feel more exhausted than refreshed after coming back from a long vacation (especially if their main reason for going on vacation is not to try

and relax and reduce their mental clutter as much as possible, but to exhaust themselves in whatever silly entertainment will provide them with the most opportunities to share photos on Facebook for their ‘friends’ to envy!)

No one likes to speak of how depressed they often feel when they’re back to their normal lives after returning from vacation. There’s even a common expression for it in our culture: ‘Post Vacation Blues’.

At this point, you might want to question the wisdom of doing something that is more likely to exhaust you than refresh you, more likely to make you feel worse rather than better, and as if that weren’t enough, also very likely to destroy your chances of achieving something worthwhile in an endeavour you value. A trojan horse, indeed.

So, am I saying that you shouldn’t ever take time off every now and then? Of course not. But do try to set things up in ways that minimize the upheaval to your normal lifestyle, so that you don’t lose all the focus and momentum you worked so hard to build up.

A better way to structure your life, in my opinion, is to have a sustainable ratio of focused work time vs leisure time built into your normal schedule. This makes it much easier to sustain focus and momentum in the long term, while at the same time also avoiding burnout. And you can also take vacations sometimes, too. But keep them as relaxing and refreshing as possible and try to set things up to minimize overwhelm once you’re back to your normal routine.

For these reasons, I would suggest that most vacations should be kept to around a week or less in duration, with an occasional longer one which could be stretched up to a couple of weeks. Any longer than that, and you run a real risk of it causing more harm than good, in the long term.

I hope that I have given you some valuable insights to increase your chances of success in the long term. 😊

About the author:

Aldo Chircop is a guitarist, composer, producer and guitar teacher based in Malta. He is president and chief instructor of Malta Rock Academy, home of the best blues, metal and rock guitar lessons in Malta.