Saturday, November 28

I'm nothing special

None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration - Thomas Edison

Hardly an original quote, eh? Yet I hadn't heard the complete form before. If you do a little googling you'll find a number of variations.

I think this is something I've always understood about myself, but it bares repeating. I'm no musical genius. I'm not really much of a genius at anything. Mostly, I just work hard, and I've had the benefit of being surrounded by some very talented and skilled people.

I can be competent at many things, and I've always been interested in a lot of different stuff. If anything is my "talent," it's probably some kind of mental ambidextrosity. I can handle calculus and matrix algebra, I'm a good programmer, I'm pretty good with people, I can write well, and I can write a tune. I also used to be somewhat of a visual artist in an obscure, primitive digital medium, though my work never really evolved beyond copying the pages of comic books.

But really, at the end of the day, I just work hard. I've been playing guitar now for 12 years. I've been writing pop songs in earnest for six. The later stuff is clearly better than the early stuff. How many hours have I put in? Probably somewhere around 5 hours a week, on average, on actual songwriting. I've put in more on the band at large, but a lot of that is booking and posters and stuff. So that's 12 years * 52 weeks * 5 hours = 3000 hours of songwriting. In the beginning, I put in more time. I played until my hands hurt. Now, I have to scrape my songwriting time out when my kid's napping and my wife's asleep.

I work hard, but I don't work enough. My friend Russell told me about Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, which I may or may not need to read. In it, he talks about the 10,000 hour rule. The gist is that in order to reach a level of incredible, genius-like performance at anything, you have to put in at least 10,000 hours. The Beatles did it. Tiger Woods did it. Bill Gates did it. The list goes on and on.

So maybe this is the real sacrifice one makes when one doesn't pursue one's art professionally. Or maybe I've just spent too much time working on non-essentials. In any event, I'd have to change my routine pretty significantly to get to 10,000 hours any time soon. I'm only a third of the way there, and I'm 32. At this pace I won't hit 10,000 until I'm 55. Professionally, I'm at 16,000 hours. And I started really peaking as an interaction designer after 5 years, right at the 10,000 mark.

But now I have a goal. I can make a change. It's like discovering that you haven't been saving enough for retirement. It's not too late, but the years you've spent not saving enough make your task harder. I have to make some catch-up contributions.

Thankfully, the IRS can't limit how much time I spend working on my art. It's time to get creative and re-budget my time.

- Jesse Kates / The Sexy Accident - Download our music for FREE