This past week I was able to catch up on some films that I have been waiting to see. On that list were Whiplash and Birdman. Now on the surface these two films are quite different, but underneath the surface I was struck at the themes of work, pushing one’s self, and pushing others to do greater work within each film. Whiplash is the story of a young, aspiring drummer (Miles Teller) and an abusive teacher (J.K Simmons) who is trying to drive the student to become better than he would without him. Within the film a story is told about drummer Jo Jones throwing a cymbal at saxophonist Charlie Parker for messing up a solo. Parker left the stage after the incident and the story goes that the next time he was seen taking the stage blew the world away with his solo. The solo it is implicated was the result of much work on the part of Parker. Simmons character in Whiplash asserts that had Jones not thrown the cymbal at Parker he may have never had the impetus to do the work it took to make him great, thus robbing the world of the music that he would make and the musician that he would become.
Another famous musicians backstory revolves around a deal with the devil at the Crossroads. Guitarist Robert Johnson was purported to have been a decent harmonica player and a terrible guitar player. But after a magical two week hiatus by the musician he returned to the stage with incredible skill and craft. The mythology of the change is the result of a deal that Johnson made with the Devil who gave him his newfound guitar skills.
I think that a lot of people think that greatness, or goodness for that matter, is just going to happen for them. Like an overnight deal with the devil they will be magically endowed with skill, craft, influence, and wisdom that they have been missing. I have not known anyone who simply become great in the course of two week or two months. Rather, like Parker, it is the result of years of work, practice, experience, mentorship, and discipline. I have a friend who is a drummer and by all accounts he was a good drummer, but it was not until he started spending significant amounts of time under the tutelage of an older drummer and in the shed behind his house practicing even the most simple of rudiments for hours that he became great at what he was doing.
I love playing guitar and would really enjoy being able to pull off a solo like Brad Paisley or John Mayer. At this point in my life if I want to hear an incredible solo I have to pull up YouTube on my computer and search out one of these guys, because it certainly isn’t coming from me. I haven’t put in the work needed to pull them off. The week may go by with me picking up my guitar for little more than a few hours each week.
So what do you want to be great at? Is it your job? Is it a hobby or passion? Is it your relationship with your wife or children? It is just not going to happen without some work on your part. How hard are you working at making that happen? Are you practicing? Are you putting in the time required to improve your relationships? Are you developing relationship with people who are where you want to be or have the skills you need to build? Are you reading the books, watching videos, and seeking out the tips and tricks that will help you in your journey? Are you willing to do the hard work required to become great?