Generally, after performing for a concert, there is one comment that whenever I get it, I become sad: “Wow, you’re so good at music, I wish I was this good too!”
Why does this compliment make me sad you might ask? Because the truth is that I’m not good at the piano…at least not anymore. You see, back when I was practicing day in and day out, my piano skills were nothing compared to what they are now. Nowadays, I can barely do what I was once able to and this situation got me thinking.
When we see people who are great at doing things or who are experts in their respective fields, we wish we could do the same yet we think that we are not able to because we are not good enough and we do not have the talent for it. The truth is that talent only gives you a head start; what really sets apart experts and everyone else is the time and effort that those experts put into honing their knowledge and skills.
There is a great wisdom in the saying “practice makes perfect”. While perfection will never be attained and can only be pursued our whole life, our brain is so powerful that if we want to, we can become an expert in any field that we want. The key is to “just do it”, like Shia LaBeouf once said, and practice regularly.
Of course, one has to learn the basics and the theory by going to schools and universities to get education or taking music classes. Also, in this day and age, so much valuable information is readily available to us; all we need to do is to actually look for it. If you want to learn a specific painting technique? Just look at YouTube videos, learn and practice every day. You want to learn how to bake good cakes? Look it up and bake. At first, it might be too sweet or overcooked but after your nth cake, it will become delicious and this brings me to my second point: practice with intent. You can either do the same thing over and over again without changing anything and what you will end up with is the same sweet and overcooked cake. However, if you take the time to analyse your failures, think on how to improve constantly and experiment, your skills will improve.
You might ask: This seems like basic knowledge and going by that logic, everyone in the world should be experts in their respective fields since you make it sound so easy right? Yes, it sounds easy, but it is one of the most difficult and courageous things to do and it is a life-long pursuit. The reason why is because it is frustrating. When we start learning about a topic that we don’t know, we are very frustrated. If you really think about it, inside our brain, new neural pathways have to be created and this process is very uncomfortable; we, humans, like comfort…a LOT. It is like the metro-express project of my country: Destroying houses, cutting down trees, creating all of the infrastructure, doing deviations that increases the traffic jams, harming the environment by doing a lot of pollution (dust, sound, etc…). We know that in theory, once it is completed, it will be beneficial to us and it will alleviate the traffic but at the same time we are not sure if it will really work or if Mauritians will still use their cars, so we ask ourselves: is it really worth it to go through all of this daily pain?
This is the same for our lives. When we realise all the hard work and inconvenience that it will do to us and the fact that we are not sure that we will benefit from this skill in the future, a lot of us just give up after a while because “it’s not worth it”. Patience and perseverance are key to success and what separates experts from everybody else. After a while, you will start to understand what you are trying to master and with this will come another painful realisation: You will realise that you actually know nothing on this subject. It sounds counter-intuitive but all of the experts out there at some point in their lives realised the vastness of the field that they were learning and how insignificant their knowledge was compared to that. At some point in my musical training, I hit a ceiling and no matter what I tried, I could not overcome it. This was a very frustrating time in my life and I almost gave up piano altogether. My teacher taught me something that up to this day, I hold very preciously within me. She said to me: “It is tough, I know. I’ve personally been where you are right now and I know how you feel. Remember this feeling well, remember this your whole life because this is a sign that you are about to have a major breakthrough. Trust me and keep trying, keep struggling, keep fighting and do not give up”.
At that point in time, I thought that she had no idea what she was talking about…how can she compare herself to me when she was the best pianist that I knew and I could not even play this one piece properly. Guess what, several months later, I did have a breakthrough. A breakthrough so significant that it marked me for life. One day I cried myself to sleep because of how frustrated I was with my incompetence and the next day, when I woke up, I was suddenly able to play almost perfectly. Not only was I able to play my music piece but everything from this point on was so much easier. If my life was a video game, it felt like I had just levelled up and suddenly became insanely strong overnight. I even felt stupid for being stuck at something so “easy” for so long.
Years later, while I was doing my psychology degree, I finally understood what happened to me. You see, like I said before, when we learn, we are constructing “roads” inside the neural network of our brains. I reached a point where I had to slow down and wait for the “road-workers” to complete their work. I was frustrated because I was working hard to build them and drive on them at the same time. When I went to sleep that night, all the roads were finally completed and when I woke up in the morning, I was welcomed by a smooth, traffic-less road and I drove so much faster so much easier.
After joining the working world in the HR department, there is something that I realised. I see a lot of young graduates frustrated because they cannot get the jobs that they want or that they feel they deserve after going through a lot at the university. Now I understand why experience is so much valuable to any employer. Because that person has put the time to practice and hone their skills and will bring much more value to the organisation than someone who just has a degree. I’m saying this because getting a degree is hard, but it is just the beginning of a journey. I see a lot of guides online that tell young people “If you get a degree in this field, your next step is to become this and then you will become that until you will finally become CEO or something”.
If you look at the career of experts and leaders of organisations today and talk to them, almost 100% of them will tell you that they had no idea they would be where they are today when they started their career. I personally know someone who started as a Car Mechanic with no formal degree and who learnt from his seniors how to work but who is today a very good General Manager. There is this false perception today that a career path is linear and if you want to become a Manager, you need to do an MBA for example. This creates a lot of frustration and a sense of entitlement in the young graduates that are entering the job market today when their whole life they were told that if they get a degree in this field, they will definitely get a job there.
Take the time to forge your own path and become an expert in a field that you have passion for. Start at the bottom of the ladder, keep learning and practice as much as possible. Get out of your comfort zone by trying to say yes to good opportunities that comes to you even if you do not feel like you deserve it or like you have the necessary skills to do it.
“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.” – Richard Branson.
Embrace failure humbly and learn from your mistakes. Do not be afraid to look like you are incompetent, ask when you don’t know something. Surround yourself with people who know more than you and learn from them. You will see that after a while, you will not have to look for jobs. Employers will look for you because you have a specific set of skills that nobody else has and this is extremely valuable. You will get opportunities after opportunities and who knows where you might end at the end of your career.
Life is tough and of course it’s not easy and you have no guarantee that you will progress that far. The important part is your attitude towards life; do your best and believe that not even the sky is the limit. Your brain is extremely powerful so have faith in yourself! Do not let others project their own limitations on you by telling you that you cannot do what you have set out to achieve. Just as you go to the gym to be fit, you need to exercise your brain every day and you will be amazed at how far you will go.
Enjoy your journey and keep struggling!
Learning by doing
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