If You Don’t Have The Time To Be World-Class, Why Not Settle For Being Merely Awesome (In Guitar Or Life)
We have all heard that it is counterproductive to compare yourself with others. But…sometimes we do. So even though I love to quote John “don’t compare yourself to others, just do your best” Wooden, in this blog series I’m giving in to the dark side–our motivation to compare ourselves to others. The series is called “So You Wanna Be Better Than Other People? Here’s how.”
In the first post about the power of showing up, I pointed out that statistically, merely getting started is enough to put you into the ranks of “the few who do, not the many who want to.”
In this blog I’m not going to show you how to be world-class. But I am going to show how sticking with something is enough to vault you into the ranks of the “few who are good, not the many who suck”. I’m calling it:
News Flash: Being Pretty Darn Good Is Pretty Darn Awesome!
While there are enormous differences between the elite and those who are merely “pretty darn good”, the amazing thing to note is that massive advantages accrue to both the “pretty darn good” and the “elite”. Being Pretty Darn Good at something is actually more than pretty darn good–it is incredible! Just check out the amazing results in the Pretty Darn Good column:
Skill –> Pretty Darn Good –> Elite
Playing Guitar –> Transpose songs on the fly, jam with others and play in bands, have a catalog of songs you can play. –> On stage in Madison Square Garden, Grammy awards.
Speaking A Foreign Language –> Have mutually intelligible conversations, get the information you need, make friends, work, or even date! –> No accent, can do undercover covert operations.
Physical Fitness –> Be physically fit–and have a substantially lower rates of obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and, heck, early death –> Olympian.
Saving Money –> Save 10% of the U.S. median income and retire with $1,000,000. –> $10,000,000 or more in liquid investments.
Getting Into College –> College graduates, regardless of what college they go to, on average have double the income of people who don’t go to college. –> Bumper sticker.
Yes, it’d be nice to hoist a gold medal around our neck or have a few million dollars in extra cash lying around–but the benefits of being “Pretty Darn Good” are nothing to sneeze at!
Unlike Joining The Ultra-Elite, Pretty Darn Good Is Attainable By All
Sadly, for most of us joining the ultra-elite may not even be an option.
Most world champions start with some natural predispositions. For example, gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps’ arm span is longer than his height (not normal), his palms are freakishly large (not normal) and he has size 14 feet (also very unusual).
Then, most of them get a relatively early start working on their special skill in an environment that supports it–for example, guitar virtuoso Steve Vai describes being exposed to and fascinated with piano music at the age of five, started playing guitar at age twelve, and began lessons with guitar legend Joe Satriani at the age of 13.
And were natural predispositions and rich environments enough to vault Michael Phelps and Steve Vai into the Olympics and Grammy Awards?
No! Next they had to push and practice, making their skill an extreme focus for years and years on end, pushing the absolute limits of their gifts and opportunities with intense practice routines. Vai practiced 10-15 hours a day! Phelps swam 80,000 meters a week. And they both did this for years on end.
And even after that, Phelps and Vai were part of a pool of many other high performers who also had natural gifts and good opportunities and incredibly intense practice regimes. In fact, Phelps won his record breaking 7th gold medal by just 1/100th of a second.
Wow! That sounds really hard.
Especially if you have a full time job and a family.
I hope that “Pretty Darn Good” is looking “pretty darn better” all the time!
Got 10,000 Hours? No? Then Why Not Settle For Pretty Darn Good in 500-1000 hours!
You’ve probably heard the “10,000 hours” concept–that’s the idea that if you deliberately practice something with focus for 10,000 hours, you’ll become a master at it.
Remember–this doesn’t mean 10,000 hours of “punching the clock”–it means 10,000 hours of focused, progressive skill building.
But what would it take to join the near-elite, say the top 10%, of a given skill?
After a lifetime spent playing and teaching guitar, I can tell you what it would look like for a guitar player–if you practiced for an average of about an hour a day for several years, making sure that the practice was progressive (not just doing the same thing over and over again) you would definitely become “better” than 90% of the other guitarists.
And if you did that for 5 years, or if you changed the hour of practice a day to 2 hours, you’d very likely be better than 19 out of 20 guitar players.
Well, probably nobody would recognize you in the store and ask for your autograph.
And you probably wouldn’t headline Madison Square Garden.
But could you play songs you like to play? Could you be a valuable member of a band? Could you jam with other people, even if you hadn’t heard the song before? Could you transpose on the fly? Could you be filled up with the love of music and the joy of progressing toward your own potential? Could you play a beautiful song at your sister’s wedding?
The Secret To Being Pretty Darn Good Is To Stick With Something Over Time
The investment of time and energy necessary to be Pretty Darn Good may not be 10,000 hours–but it is still substantial. But it is also very doable for any of us; we can all be Pretty Darn Good, simply by using a good strategy and sticking with it!
I’ve proved this to myself as a writer by finishing 100s of blog posts and six books (including an Amazon best seller guitar manual) by simply writing for 25-35 minutes on my morning commute for about a decade. Not always easy–but always simple!
Currently, I want to be Pretty Darn Good at speaking Spanish—so I’ve practiced for an hour a day following someone else’s proven plan for the past 9 months–about 250 hours of practice.
The US Department of State Foreign Language Institute estimates that native English speakers can reach basic proficiency in Spanish with 600-750 of study. So I’m on my way. All I have to do is not stop, and I am guaranteed to be successful!
How cool is that?
Do you think if you didn’t stop getting better at something–anything–for 500-800 hours you’d end up being Pretty Darn Good?
The formula is simple:
You don’t need a special body, or size 17 feet, or early childhood exposure to advanced math, or even a supportive mom.
All you need to do is to:
- Decide what you want to be Pretty Darn Good at (Guitar? Writing? Making friends?)
- Then adopt and adapt somebody else’s plan (like the NYC Guitar School class program!)
- And then stick with it for a few years!
We Have More Time Than We Think
Have you ever watched a plant grow?
I wrote the first draft of this post during the coldest January 31st in New York City’s history. Nothing much seemed to be happening. But now it is May–flowers are bursting through the earth, trees are budding, and spring is springing.
Every time you glance at a flower, tree, or blade of grass in the springtime you are watching it grow! But…you can’t see it growing. Nothing much seems to be happening! Yet, the next day, there will be a flower where there wasn’t one before. The next week, the lawn will be overgrown. The next month, the trees will be heavy with lush leaves.
It is miraculous.
Being world-class in any arena takes a near full-time, utter, and unbalanced commitment–and even if you do put in that time and commitment, you could easily miss the medal by one one-millionth of a second.
But…to be “merely” elite, to be “merely” amazing…is something that we all have the potential to do, in multiple arena–while being balanced in other areas of our lives, as well.
What will you be Pretty Darn Good at?
Pretty Darn Good Is Pretty Darn Awesome
We Can All Be Pretty Darn Good
On To Greatness,
Department of State Foreign Language Institute (https://www.state.gov/m/fsi/sls/c78549.htm)
Michael Phelps arm span: https://www.scienceabc.com/sports/michael-phelps-height-arms-torso-arm-span-feet-swimming.html
“The Motivation Myth” by Jeff Haden includes the concept of sub-Olympic greatness