Do successful people try really hard?

We've all heard that old aphorism that makes the claim: "Success is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration."

Speaking from the viewpoint of a 50 year involvement in music (also known as hindsight), I'll say that, while it does reveal a faint nugget of truth, it's nowhere near universal in scope.

I'll define success as coordinating our gifts and liabilities to create a circumstance that is best suited for our personal welfare and those we'd like to help.

For most musicians, success is defined as being able to earn enough income from music alone to provide for the greatest amount of time devoted to the art. Secondary success would be a widespread appreciation for and acknowledgement of our efforts. Of course, there are many variations on that theme.

On the most disadvantaged side of the musical success equation are those who have the motivation and desire, but are so profoundly handicapped in their gifts and talents that no amount of work over any number of years is ever going to make it happen. Ironically, most of these people are totally amazing at some kind of non-glamorous profession such as home construction, car repair, running a plumbing business, and so forth. Since that's not what they want, I can't call it as success. In these cases, adapting and adjusting their hopes and dreams to their gifts could, in fact, be their best option and a kind of success in itself. No doubt, the mindset adjustment would be hard work. But in many cases, it's a more reasonable and realistic option than the "dreams and perseverance" strategy.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we see the prodigies, who speak of their work as being relatively effortless and very rewarding. I don't think anyone quite knows where that comes from and it can't be taught or cooked up through knowledge, training or philosophy. Whatever it is, they are destined for success if they choose to use their gifts and keep themselves grounded in reasonably healthy lifestyles. Conversely, sometimes their personal lives fall apart from living in the bubble of a profound gift.

Among those who are not full prodigies, most of the successful musicians I know have strong natural gifts to work from. They generally have good health, good stamina, a high perceptual capacity for musical details and abstracts, good physiology for the demands of an instrument or vocal, and inherent circumstances where time is available to develop the craft. One of the things I find interesting about stellar musicians is that they have a very high capacity to remain immersed and fascinated for very long periods of time. Time disappears and they don't get bored and are not easily distracted.

Whatever the source, their efforts are consistently producing good results. So we might ask, is this hard work or is it something more natural and transcendent, where life, love and passion flow toward ever increasing abundance?

A quick and easy answer is elusive.

If I had to answer the question as concisely as possible, I might say that an honest and thorough self assessment may be the hardest but most effective thing you can do in finding your own success.


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