When I was about 12 or 13 years old I heard this song by the Deftones and suddenly I knew that I had to make sounds on a guitar.
I felt the sound of that guitar and I knew that I had to somehow express myself through that instrument.
Whatever rage, testosterone, or creativity was flowing through me, I had to find a way to let it out and music was the vehicle for that. Guitar was an extension of me.
My Aunt Kim gave my first guitar as a gift, a perfect Alvarez acoustic nylon string “classical” style. I remember touching that guitar, feeling the glossy outer covering of the body, and those smooth strings so silky yet hurtful on my virgin fingers.
Every little feeling that I got, I mean every single step towards being able to produce a cool sound on the guitar, was like a triumph to me!
I resolved to practice every single day for(at least) 1 hour. Considering the fact that I had no-one forcing me to practice the guitar, this was an amazing feat! I was a kid that found himself on ritalin due to attention problems so it wasn’t easy to concentrate. Luckily, my mom didn’t make me continue taking that stuff.
Unbelievably, I did as I said I would do. I practiced everyday for many, many hours, until my fingers hurt. My skill went from nonexistent to highly noticeable in one short year.
I knew a guy at school that was an accomplished player. I remember telling him that a barred F chord(when I first started) was very hard for me to perform due to my weak forearm strength. He sneered and casually said to me “…yeah man, it’s pretty easy.”
Shortly after that I was better than him. Far Better. I became obsessed in a very happy, engaged and never satisfied sort of way. I longed to reach the next level at all times. Always. Always I wanted to increase my knowledge and to be more accurate. I needed to be faster.
Soon that accomplished player from school was inviting me to play in a band that included him and some older musicians. I eagerly accepted and soon I was playing catch up to much more experienced poets of sound. God how I hated and loved those guys at the same time. They were arrogant and yet they tried to push me to that next level. I kept on getting better…
We learned 50 popular, easily recognizable songs and began playing shows to let people know we existed. I learned the initial fear that happens when you perform, the pre-show anxiety and all the rickets that come with that.
I also learned the amazing, indescribable feeling that comes when you are truly pumped to play and can’t wait to show people what you’ve got.
We gained popularity. Not really. Just that small town, kids making a fuss from ’round the way sort of popularity. Small town rockstars. Up and comers. Or so it seemed…
Everyone except me and my cocky friend were on drugs. Meth was always present in that covert way. I hated that feeling, like I had to be cool under not so cool circumstances. I was a kid playing in a local rock band but I had to act experienced around drug people. You can go ahead and guess what this was like.
So what does all this have to do with reaching a high level in your chosen discipline? I’m glad you asked!
The thing that cause you to rise to that rare, incredibly high level of expertise is…wait for it…true dedication.
Sure, sure, you may be thinking “Well, duh!” but here’s the thing: It’s something that everyone knows, everyone wants, and yet so few actually get there.
How many boxers reach the level of Floyd Mayweather? How many guitarists are as influential as Angus Young or Antonio Jobim? How many writers are as successful as Stephen King?
Very few. None, actually. And how did these top performers get there? How did the cream rise to the top? SIMPLE! They chose something to be obsessed with and they chased it to the ends of the Earth!
It’s actually so very simple to become the best at something. Here’s a 3 step plan that’ll blow any bullshit college degree out of the water in a second:
- Find your obsession: What is it that interest you, almost to a state of annoyance? That thing that invades your thoughts every day, that thing that you naturally think of whenever you’re free of pressure or outside influence. If you’re creative, then its likely writing, music, or film. If you’re creative then you HAVE TO CREATE WITH ALL THAT YOU HAVE INSIDE YOU. Or else you’ll die. And no matter what happens, it won’t really be a natural death. It’ll be a death of the heart and a death of the soul – not the same as physical death – that comes later, after much unnecessary suffering.
- Practice: Every single day of your life you will practice the basics. If its guitar then you must touch the guitar every day. If its writing then you must write every day of your life. If its math, then fucking do math everyday and do it with FEELING. You only have so much time left on this Earth. If you simply give your full attention to something and practice it everyday as if your life depended on it then its only a matter of time before you are the greatest at that which moves you.
- Never Stray/Stay the Course: This is the tricky part, you see. Because everyone knows that practice is what makes you good and yet so few are able to (first) DECIDE and then (second) EXECUTE. Sure, its plenty easy and plenty painless to say I’d like to get good at Tennis. But so very few, like maybe 1 in 100,000 will actually put in that daily effort and go through all that athletic pain in order to get to the top performance bracket. There’s always some excuse, there’s always some rationalization there just waiting, just begging for you to give up. So what are you gonna do?
So there you go. So Simple. So Pure. And yet so damn hard for people to actually do.
What do you think? It doesn’t matter what you want to do. If you have a burning desire to be the best, then the formula is straightforward and unpretentious. Do it. Every day. Sick or well. Rain or shine. Get better every day.
J Dilla knew this very, very well when he produced “Got till’ its Gone” for Janet Jackson. So did Clapton when he wrote “Tears In Heaven.”
You can only comprehend it if you earn it. Just like Mike Tyson, you shall stand at the top and when people ask you how you did it, you can tell them anything. But only you know: those that payed the price will understand. Because they paid for it with long-time effort, bloody passion and stubborn dedication. Like Iago, they arrogantly knew their price.
How weird it must be to do the same thing day in and day out until its so damn common place that it sometimes even makes you want to vomit…
But you gotta respect that dedication.
You gotta respect that unwillingness to quit.
So go get that shit.
And don’t you ever stop.