Close, but no e-cigar

It’s 5.04 am and I’ve been failing to sleep for some time now. I’ve actually been considering how I have managed to reach the grand age of 52 and a half without much in the way of success at all. This is not what has been keeping me awake so much as keeping me company in my insomnia. It seems that if there is one area in my life in which I may legitimately call myself successful it is in failing. I am remarkably consistent in getting so far but no further. There are no laurels of victory for me, no spoils, just the nagging feeling that I have made under-achieving into something of an art form. I write this not out of self-pity or in a plea for sympathy, but more in the sense that perhaps, just perhaps, under-reaching is the default human condition. Continue reading

Inspiration or perspiration?

This morning there was yet another ‘nature vs nurture’ debate on the radio. One commentator was adamant that talent was a myth, and that the nature of the brain meant that with enough work – and, crucially, self-belief – anyone could become, say ‘good at maths’. His opponent suggested that we had natural, innate propensities towards certain activities, and this was what was important.

Thereby lies the rub. Do we follow what, to my mind, is a nicely conservative line which suggests that attainment is entirely down to hard work? It’s politically useful, but that’s about it.

As we all know from watching those delightful shows like Britain’s got Talent that there are issues. Issues with taste. Plainly, someone’s told these people they can sing … someone lacking an aesthetic appreciation of the human voice. Secondly, there are problems with the voting systems, which seem to show audiences voting for the cutest/sweetest rather than the best – but this is perhaps more of a comment on the nature of modern showbusiness than anything else …

It is dangerous, but I think any musician or sportsman will tell you that it takes more than simple hard work to climb the dizziest heights of achievement. With intelligent study, pretty much anyone can attain a certain proficiency at their chosen craft, that’s for sure. But to shine takes somehing else. That’s what talent is.

With music, there’s a certain way of hearing things which does seem to be innate, and which allows the technical training to have its fullest affect. With sports, there’s a certain way of seeing things, of seeing the ball, for example, which sets the player apart.

They are in many ways the same thing. Both involve accurate and ‘instinctive’ prediction. Where will the next note be? Where will the ball be?

But it not the ball or note as a whole, it’s knowing where the exact centre will be at any specific moment in time. Then the decision is made regarding how to play the note/ball … where you play it relative to its middle defines its future behaviour. The truly talented player knows this and manipulates it. They can play it wherever they wish.

That, combined with hard work, is when the individual achieves what Castiglione called sprezzatura, or effortless achievement.

You can have all the talent in the world, but without hard work, it will come to nought.

You can work as hard as you like, but without talent you will only ever be a journeyman.

The trick is identifying where your talents lie.