My mom grew up on a farm in South Dakota — the kind where she and her siblings had to walk through snow up to here miles to a one-room schoolhouse. I can’t imagine growing up on a farm like that.
Her little sister, my Aunt Ellen, visited recently. I don’t remember the details of Ellen’s learning music growing up, but here’s my understanding. She got a hold of a cheap guitar from somewhere, got a record player, and figured out how to play the guitar playing along with records until her fingers bled. I’m pretty sure my grandmother made them all learn music since my mom plays the piano, but I’m pretty sure Aunt Ellen taught herself guitar alone.
I don’t remember the details of my learning to play music when I was a kid. My parents made me learn something, so I picked guitar. My mom switched me to violin so I ended up taking violin lessons for a few years, then guitar. They made me practice a lot so I think I got okay at playing, but I don’t remember looking forward to practicing and I do remember times practicing with tears streaming down my face. Playing music didn’t come naturally to me.
Aunt Ellen’s whole family — her husband and my cousins — plays instruments. As far as I could tell they all enjoy it and it comes naturally to me.
Strangely, to me at least, not everyone loves learning math and science. I love both. I remember as an undergraduate walking through the physics library looking at titles of physics books, fascinating, wishing to read all of them, if only I had time. I’ve never heard of anyone describing an attraction like that. Nobody pushed me to go into physics. Society hardly rewards physicists outside the Nobel Prize, which comes late in most winners’ careers. Calling people geeks and nerds generally doesn’t value them highly. Yet like music with Aunt Ellen and her family, something about the field sufficed to motivate me to devote most of a decade to it. I still enjoy its beauty today. I love the perspective of nature science teaches.
But music never came naturally to me.
I prefer to have lessons I learned in my posts. Today I’m just noting that some things come easy and feel natural and others don’t. No lesson. I tend to believe that everyone has at least one significant thing that will bring them success on their terms. If something doesn’t come easily or feel natural to you, I believe something else will. For all we know, Michael Jordan might have sucked at most things besides basketball.
You know, I also created my leadership course in my spare time after finding learning it so valuable in business school. I don’t know anyone who creates courses on their own time, making two-hundred-plus slides in the process. When you love something, it comes easy.
So maybe I should add a lesson: going with your passion makes work easier and success more likely and enjoyable. It probably doesn’t improve your life much to push against what feels natural if you can instead find things that feel natural and to go with them. I don’t think I have any great insight into this area than most people. But I do think a lot of people, however well they know these principles, don’t act on them. They resign themselves to do things they don’t like and figure success or life-level enjoyment just isn’t in their cards.
Not liking something but still doing it doesn’t mean you can’t still succeed. Andre Agassi noted in his autobiography that he hated tennis yet became one of the top players of all time. Though people say he had superlative natural talent from childhood.
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