If there is a *, I totally memorized it. If there is a x, I did some.

“What’s this, I did some?” I asked Kathryn, reading the scribbles she had written above her practice chart in her notebook. She shrugged. (I have noticed there is a lot of shrugging in my studio.) “I couldn’t do it all. I did some.”

At the time, I was annoyed. Kathryn is twelve and has been in my studio since she was a precocious four-year-old. She is a fine pianist and a smart kid. Furthermore, she is fully capable of “totally” doing her practicing. But there it was: the evidence of her week’s work in the form of an X. “I did some.”

But later, thinking this over, I had to admit that I have gone into a lot of situations with “some” being my level of preparation. I have played recitals with colleagues where I have not looked up every musical indication in my score nor have I listened to a single recording of the music. There have been times when my last-minute housecleaning before a dinner party has involved shoving dirty bowls and platters into the oven and dishwasher just to get them off the counters rather than dealing with them. I have gone into meetings not having done my homework and just prayed I wouldn’t be called upon to report. I have taught repertoire I haven’t practiced well enough to demonstrate.

This is nothing to be proud of, this habit of doing “some,” but an honest look at my life reveals plenty of examples where that is exactly what I have done. I have done some good writing, some hard weeding, some focused practicing, some mindful yoga, some thoughtful teaching. But what about the rest? What would it actually look like to “totally” do something?

Last Monday, I had a migraine. Headaches are nothing particularly noteworthy in my life, but this was an especially bad one. That morning I had gotten up when my alarm went off at 5:10am, went through my short yoga sequence, meditated for 20 minutes and was at the pool by 6am. I had a bit of a headache, but nothing too alarming. However, back home, I was drinking coffee and reading when the nagging sensation behind my eyes erupted into a full-blown monster. My jaw began sending sharp shooting pains down my neck every time I opened my mouth, the pressure inside my head started to increase exponentially, I was becoming more and more nauseated.

I knew I had two choices. I could either try to push through and deal with the pain and other symptoms or I could take my migraine medicine and suffer through those side effects. On Monday I chose the latter. This meant I had about one hour before I would be rendered completely unconscious from the drug. I tackled email and then went to bed.

Several hours later I woke up and took stock. I still had a headache, but it was better. I was sleepy due to the meds, but my brain no longer felt like it was a mound of wet cotton. I peeled myself out of bed and tiptoed into my day: I practiced for several hours, I taught my lessons, I played the first half of a choir rehearsal before bailing and going home to bed. In summary: I did some.

It is tempting go through life with a sort of all or nothing mentality, to throw out any hope of work or accomplishment when our intentions and routines get derailed. “I couldn’t practice this whole week because it was my birthday!” students will tell me and mean it. Interruptions happen, both birthdays and migraines disrupt our plans, there is always something out there threatening our good practices.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that it is self-deception to imagine that we can totally do anything. We will never totally learn all the piano repertoire. We will never totally be the pianist, or teacher, or human being that we are striving to become. Our houses will never be totally clean or our gardens completely weeded. There will always be more yoga, more writing, more listening, more practicing we could do.

And perhaps this was, in a coded way, what Kathryn was trying to say: I only truly honestly know x. While the goal of “totally” is a good one, the truth is that most of life is about the “some” of what we have actually, honestly done. I practiced, I slept off a headache, I cleaned my kitchen and did five sun salutations, I answered seven emails, I memorized the first page of my Chopin.

I did some.