family, talent, and hard work.

I left to go home for Thanksgiving in Ohio on Wednesday.  I drove back to Wheaton on Black Friday.  I was particularly proud of my car for making it that long.  It’s a good car.  On Wednesday I was falling asleep at the wheel, so I turned the heat down and blasted Macklemore’s CD The Heist.  To keep me focused, I also attempted to memorize the lyrics of his songs.  Didn’t really work.  But hey it was an A for effort.

I realized that I really hate Thanksgiving.  The holiday is just not fun, we sit around a table and stuff ourselves with food until we no longer can eat anymore.  Then we eat more.  You never get enough time off to do anything significant.  It’s just really not exciting for me.  But this Thanksgiving was very good compared to the past.  For one thing, my whole family was present with the exception of one cousin.  The last time that happened I was still going through puberty.

On my trip home I had a lot of time to think and reflect on my time spent with family.  First of all, I was thinking about how weird families are.  How families are just a group of people who happen to be born into the same group of people.  It’s just weird.  Like I wouldn’t be connected or even know these people except for the fact that my mom is related to their mom.  Families are strange.

But the thing I really wanted to write about while in the car driving, (which I obviously couldn’t, so instead I recorded myself talking about it so I wouldn’t forget what I wanted to say, maybe I’ll post the recording on here for fun), was about “talented” people.  My extended family is convinced that one of my cousins is super talented at music.  He can pick up a guitar and play it by ear and he can write really good poems.  Congratulations.  But seriously, he does have a good ear.  So maybe he is talented, but talent doesn’t make you successful.

This problem happens particularly with musicians, athletes, and artists.  People are convinced that people in these areas are just purely talented and that’s why they’ve been successful.  Maybe it’s because the majority of the population can’t pick up any instrument and play it very well, or pick up a bat and hit a baseball 300 feet.  But it’s interesting to me that as a society we have this idea that people are purely talented, and because they are talented, they really don’t have to work hard to be successful.  I hate to say this, but talent doesn’t make success easy.  As musicians, athletes, and artists, maybe we are talented, but that talent doesn’t make us successful.  We may be gifted in a certain area, but we’re not just gifted or talented.  We’re hard workers.

I’ve been studying music since I was 5 years old.  I started taking piano lessons, and then when I was 10 I started playing the cello.  I’m now 23 years old and I’ve been studying music for 18 years.  It feels a lot longer than it sounds, but I’ve devoted the majority of my life to studying music.  I’m in college now studying music and devoting my life to it.  I’m to the point where I really can pick up any instrument and play it.  It’s not because I’m more brilliant (one of my older students called me brilliant for being able to play the violin and viola so well) than anyone else, I’ve worked really hard to get where I’m at.  I’ve cried, wanted to quit and give up and I never did.  That is how I got to where I’m at.  I may have started off having an affinity to music and you maybe can call that talent, but right now, I am not talented.  I’ve worked my butt off to get where I’m at right now.

This semester at Wheaton College, this man named Eric Lamb came to speak to us musicians.  He’s a flute player who has traveled around the world performing.  He is excellent at what he does and he has been very successful at it.  He told us his story which included being the top in his class at his conservatory which meant he practiced, practiced, practiced, and practiced more.  He also told us that he connected with the right people who led him to where he is at now.

At the end of his session, we had a question and answer time.  I remember this one man’s question in particular because of what I realized from it.  The man was asking this question in light of the fact that his daughter wanted to be a musician, and to make music a career.  He asked “Listening to your story, it sounds like you are just very talented.  You also seemed to have met the right people and just got lucky with who heard you and who you met with.  I’m just curious how I encourage my daughter to continue to work at being a musician with the understanding that she probably won’t make it as a musician unless she gets lucky?”  I’m obviously paraphrasing and also probably totally butchering his question.  But really what matters was Eric’s response.

Eric responded almost as if he was offended.  And I was slightly taken aback because I was like that is a valid question.  But Eric’s response was “Maybe I have been lucky, but what got me to where I am right now is not just luck.  I’ve worked hard to get to where I’m at.  When I wasn’t practicing, I was calling people and networking with people to get my name around.  I have worked hard to get to where I’m at.”  This was fascinating to me and it caused me to start thinking about our view of musicians in general.

Why is it that people always assume that we get to where we at because we’re lucky talented people?  People also don’t see being a musician as a legitimate career.  I’ve had people talk to me negatively so many times about musicians, talking like they are lazy, and like music really isn’t actually a career.  Our society has confused the idea of talent being able to take us somewhere.  When really, talent can only take someone so far, and then the real hard work has to kick in or else that talented person will just be a person with talent not a musician with talent.

I guess what it comes down to is, people are talented.  There are talented people, but that talent and affinity towards something will only take someone so far, and if they aren’t willing to work their butts off to go somewhere with their talent, then they won’t find success in that talent.  Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book “The Tipping Point” and in that book there is a chapter titled 10,000 hours (Macklemore wrote a song about this).  In this chapter, Gladwell presents research that he did with the top musicians in the world or something, and basically decided that they averaged around 10,000 hours of time they spent practicing.  He concluded that in order for someone to get close to successful at something, they need to put around 10,000 hours into it.

We read that chapter in my Senior Capstone class, and it’s interesting because a lot of my colleagues did not appreciate the mathematical thinking that Gladwell presented (what’d ya know.  We’re a bunch of musicians!).  But I personally really connected with it.  I came from a different perspective, it made me realize how our society thinks about successful people.  I’ve had many students come in who want to play the violin well.  They have a desire, but then when they realize how much work and time they have to put into playing Mary Had a Little Lamb, they automatically are like, the violin isn’t for me.  Because it’s hard.  You can’t pick up a violin and automatically sound like Joshua Bell.  You have to work to get to that point, and that’s where our society quits.

We want things right here, right now, and we don’t realize that in order to be successful or go places with our talents, we have to work hard to get there.  My cousin may be talented, and God has probably gifted him with music, but unless he works to perfect that talent, he is just like everyone else- a talented person who didn’t sow his gift and work at it.  No one becomes a good musician overnight, no one just wakes up one day and is able to shoot 95% at the free throw line, no one becomes good at something just because they breathe.  People have to put in time, energy, tears, blood, and frustrations to get anywhere with their talent.  That is where our society has come up short.  We think that we are all talented and we don’t have to work to be good at something.  That’s a lie.  And it needs to change.

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