Let me indulge in a moment or two of retrospection from my school days…
When I was 10 years old, I used to play the cello. I used to cry sometimes when I had to practice and it frustrated my Mum. I did have to carry it around from home to school and school to home which did not lend tiself that well to playing football with my friends… I was quite good and so started having lessons with a couple of other students my age.
Despite being in an indie-rock-stage-diving-college band, I was not really the musical type, the band was something where I got to show off and be pretentious… I took my cello lessons for a couple of years and even was allowed to go to a secondary school out of my local area because my music teacher taught there… Now why am I running through all this nostalgia? Let me explain…
My progress was ok and I got to perform at a couple of school productions. I learned to play some beautiful classical tunes and must have been the only person in the world to learn to play pop songs on a cello at that very early age.
Then one day, about two years into my cello playing lessons, as I started actually listening to the Julian Lloyd-Webber albums my family had bought me (Yes, Andrew Lloyd-Webbers brother is a professional cellist) along came a new student into our class… She was younger than me, had very poor eyesight, I mean she had the thickest glasses, and her eyes wandered all over the place… What made matters worse, she lived near me so we shared lifts with her parents and mine, carrying our cellos together…
She had no cello playing experience and was visually impaired. I remember her vividly. She was nice enough, completely inoffensive and pleasant… Well, pretty much just a month later she was already doing everything I had learned in the previous couple of years… I was gutted! What can I say, she obviously had natural talent. I used to think “yeah, but I can play football too…”
At the time, it did not take a genuis to notice that all my previous experience didn’t amount to much when you compare it to her fast-learning abilities. Now, there was no competition between us, and I packed in playing as I got older because I could not find it cool (I rue that childish decision today) she was visually impaired, genuine and down-to-earth, with a little bit of a kooky family, why would I attempt to compete? That said, this cello learning era marked the first time, in retrospect that is, when I realised that experience has its limits.
The forumula for success, at least according to my teachers, my mentors and is often the recipe I deliver to my own clients today… had always been that if you put your heart and soul into what you loved doing, and if you kept on practicing, being persistent with your passion… if you also gained experience… then you could master absolutely anything.
For the most part, when you’re young it seems to work, whether with learning how to read music or figuring out how to master the basics of mathematics.
Yet when it came to playing the cello, I realised that although I could improve if I continued to practice (and, yes, there was definitely room and potential for improvement), I would not really be as good as the girl who had the natural knack for it… I did not have the love for it that she had…I mean, she’d get excited discussing it in her Mum’s car on the way home from school while I looked longingly out of the window at my friends kicking a football around using their jumpers as goal posts.
So was my cello talent limited? Maybe so, for a couple of reasons. Experience alone could only take me so far without the other ingredients.
You hear a lot of talk about experience in the news these days. Gordon Brown was the most experienced cabinet member and a successful chancellor and so found his was easily to being Tony Blair’s successor as Prime Minister… Though in these supposed economic troubled times and following ‘melt-down Monday’ and various other political issues, Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown’s skills are being questioned and scrutinised.
I think the media is confusing experience with skill.
If you wanted to put together a childrens school orchestra, and you had to choose between me who had a couple of years of experience and the new girl who only had a month but was already better than me, you’d be crazy to choose me… Wouldn’t you?
You can look at many of our politicians who have years of experience, yet may not be any good at all in handling certain political circumstances… Yet, the fresh-faced politicians are being banded around as political leaders because of that freshness…
I’m sure Gordon Brown has many talents as an individual, but when it came time to putting together a working plan for dealing with the scrapping of the 10p tax band, the current economic trials and questions about his leadership, his skills seem to be about as promising as my cello playing abilities.
Blimey, did I get political today? That is unusual for me…
When I was in training to be a hypnotherapist, there were lots of people who had been counsellors for years on my course and they seemed to find their experience held them back and kept them in a place where they held on to existing skill sets rather than embrace new ones…
When training for marathons, I remember taking my brother out for a run when we were younger and he threw up after less than a mile… Yet today, with years less experience and training than me, he runs marathons and every other kind of race much faster and better than me!
I was asked a question on my hypnotherapy diploma last month, one of my trainees said “Adam, you are such a natural with this…How can we be as good?” I am not attempting to shine a light on myself here — honest guv’nor — I wanted to repeat my answer; “Well, after all these years, I expect to be good… Plus, I get to show you how to do it with your own natural flair” — You see, we can show others how to take the short cuts and do the steep learning curve in shorter times these days, can’t we?
So does experience actually count? Am I being ambivalent? I know most of my therapy lients come to me because of my years of experience and reputation… Yet they know of my skill because they have been referred by someone who had a success with me…
I’m not saying that experience doesn’t matter, maybe it makes a difference intra-personally. In other words, if I now decided to pick up the cello and play for a few hours every day, I’m sure I’ll get better… So what about when we compare across people?
Whether it’s about who is going to be the best cellist, runner, politician, or therapist… It also tends to be the skill level that counts… Maybe it’s also about how comfortable the person feels in the position, or about their passion and sense for it… Does he or she have the “it” factor? If they do, does experience become secondary? And if they don’t, then can experience make up for it?
Just some thoughts for today… Anyone who comes up with any answers, please let me know 🙂
Experience (i.e. hard work) can make the best of what talent someone has, but there are naturally talented people who exceed the limits of someone who merely has an aptitude for something.
Keeping the musical theme, there are genuine ‘virtuosos’ in all fields, but they are relatively rare by definition. Unfortunately, virtuosos often can’t explain or teach someone else how they achieve the ultimate heights of ability – it’s just something they do, like breathing.
The ability to perform certain tasks, artistically, physically or mentally is more often than not a learned process, what we would call a “learned pattern of behaviour”. We often see this in our clients, some of whom have learned negative ways of “being”. Other abilities though seem to come from out of nowhere, and only surface when we need them. They can be used for many purposes, but are usually reactive patterns that we came into this world with. We were “hardwired” with them pre-birth so to speak.
Allow me to give you a real life example. I have played sport in my life, school and college rugby, but those years are far behind me now and that iron-man athleticism is more in mind than body! However, a little while ago, mother nature forced me to become what I can only term superhuman, if only for a matter of seconds!
My eldest son has spent quite a lot of his working life in the Australian Outback. It’s a wonderful place with odd sights, sounds and creatures, some very foreign to the city dweller. We were walking a paddock together one day, and as we past a gnarled old lemon scented gum tree, my son said, as he pointed to a mound on the body of the trunk …. “you don’t see those…………..”, but didn’t have time to finish his sentence! We were suddenly surrounded, and being stung, viciously by thousands of wasps. Painful, and potentially dangerous. In a flash, my son was off! He’s young, and very fit and fast. To his everlasting surprise, he was overtaken by his father, head back and flying á la “Chariots of Fire” beach scene.
I didn’t crack the 10 second 100 yards, but after all, the terrain was uneven!
So, did experience create my sudden ability to move like the wind? Did I learn to run so rapidly from rampaging wasps? No, I believe it was necessity, and that innate human trait that helps us to survive that drove me on that afternoon. My point? If we absolutely must do something, be it playing a cello, knocking out a Hendrix riff on a Fender Strat, escaping a rampaging Cassowary, leaping sideways six feet from a hissing venomous snake (another story!) and we allow that other part of our mind to guide us, then we shall do it.
Thank you very much Gordon and Dan for the fabulous contribution to this thread… In my members area, in response to this thread, one member is talking about his girlfriend who is a professional cellist and he is an NLP practitioner convinced any musician should be able to model the skills of another and replicate… She naturally disagrees… Opting for experience and natural talent as far better serving…
Thanks again 🙂
You might enjoy looking at my web site and book, Cello Playing for Music Lovers. It talks about a state of alert relaxation, akin to your mental states.