In an unexpected twist of fate, business became my career even though music and writing is my passion. With that said, as I embark on my creative adventures, I find my business acumen quite helpful. Just because you are in business, doesn’t mean that you can’t be creative, and it’s business that is going to help get my creative vision out into the world.
One of the things that I have come across in my business studies is Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule. Essentially, if you study or do anything for 10,000 you will become an expert. I believe there is a lot of truth in this; however, I think Alice Bradley has a better take on it:
“Gladwell didn’t distinguish between the type of practice that the musicians in our study did — a very specific sort of practice referred to as “deliberate practice” which involves constantly pushing oneself beyond one’s comfort zone, following training activities designed by an expert to develop specific abilities, and using feedback to identify weaknesses and work on them — and any sort of activity that might be labeled “practice.”
This distinction between deliberate practice aimed at a particular goal and generic practice is crucial because not every type of practice leads to the improved ability that we saw in the music students or the ballet dancers. Generally speaking, deliberate practice and related types of practice that are designed to achieve a certain goal consist of individualized training activities — usually done alone — that are devised specifically to improve particular aspects of performance.”-Alice Bradley, The Upgrade
I’ve been blessed with a deep love and passion for music, but never the talent to play. Or so I thought. My lack of ability stems from childhood piano lessons, where I simply, didn’t practice, because of my perfectionist tendencies. I didn’t pick it up immediately, I made mistakes, so I stopped practicing. I lacked discipline and grit to get through the sound of me sucking at piano.
As a Mom, I feel that it is important that one’s child learns an instrument. My daughter was handed a violin at age five by a friend; a friend who also happens to be a brilliant Suzuki trained classical violinist. She liked it, so we went with violin and I enrolled her in a local Suzuki program. I didn’t want her to struggle with what I did, I figured starting her earlier would help.
What I didn’t realize almost four years ago now, that this decision would change our lives.
The Suzuki method is a very methodical way of practice. Every day we have several elements of our practice chart that we have to complete. For example: Twinkle variations, 5x a day, Song of the wind 3 x a day, focusing on one specific measure 10 x a day. So on and so on.
I liked the structure of it, but several years in, without seeing my daughter progress as fast as I though she should, and a little annoyed by the slow methodical pounding away at each song, and repetition of each element, I questioned the method. Anna wasn’t going to be a professional violinist. Shouldn’t she just have fun? Shouldn’t she move through songs even if she missed several notes? I could see her begin to struggle as some of the other kids began to move quicker then her. At the time I thought, maybe it was the teachers. So like us as humans to place blame on someone else, rather then look at our own contributions, like…our lack of commitment to the daily practice. Instead of 7 days a week, we were practicing more like three, and even then, not getting through everything.
As a single mom, with a busy career, I made many excuses for why we didn’t get our practice done. The reality was, I wasn’t disciplined in my commitment to practice. There were other factors our teacher were having a rough personal year, and I had a choice to make. Do I stick with this group. Three years, or do I try someone else.
So….Anna and I had a lesson with another teacher. One that we both liked a lot. Very talented; but, I walked away from that lesson feeling awful, like I was cheating. Then I realized, I was cheating Anna and myself. We had made a commitment, to a certain way of practice, and to a group, and to our teachers, and by God we were going to stick with it even when the practice was tough and our teachers were having a tough time.
That made all the difference.
When Anna struggled on an element, we just kept with it until we got through it. When she cried and wanted to do something else, I gently reinforced that this was what we were doing. It didn’t matter how challenging it seemed, every day, we would practice, even for a little bit…every single day.
It What’s the Rule of 5?
Picture a tree in your backyard that needs to be cut down. If you grab an ax and take five good swings at the tree each day, eventually you will chop it down. It may take a month to fell a small tree, while a big tree may take years to topple. The size of the tree isn’t the issue; the real question is whether or not you diligently take five swings at it every day.
For leaders, a primary challenge is to identify the five activities most essential to success, and then to practice them daily. The Rule of 5 doesn’t ask: “What are the five things I would like to do.” That’s a question related to passion. Nor does it ask: “What are five things I should like to do? That sort of inquiry uncovers your values. Rather, the Rule of 5 asks: “What are the five things I must like to do in order to be successful?” Posing this question cuts to the heart of the daily behaviors necessary to win in your chosen profession.
For example, to excel as an author, there are five things that must happen each day:
Filing good material
If someone has raw talent as a writer, and practices these activities long enough, they’ll eventually find an audience for their work.-John Maxwell
It hit me. Suzuki method was simply a practice in the rule of five. Mastering an instrument is much like the parable of the tree and the woodsman. Eventually the tree will fall if you swing at it every day. Eventually you will learn anything if you dedicated yourself to practicing every single day. It may take you longer then others, based on the way that your brain is wired, but you will get there. Consistency and discipline is the key.
As to fun, the fun is mastering something challenging. It’s our job to find the fun in difficult things, it’s not fun’s responsibility to show up and take over for us. It’s our job to bring the fun.
The rule of five can be applied to just about everything: your work, your passions, your relationships, your family. Doing things with discipline and consistency will lead to understanding and mastery.
While my daughter has a Suzuki practice chart, I’ve taken this one step further with myself. I have my own form of practice chart. A list of those things I do every day to further my own success, creatively, career wise, and in my interpersonal relationships. First I had to decide what I wanted, the type of life I wanted to lead, and the type of person I wanted to be. Once I figured that out then I could begin my own practice.
I used to be a person obsessed with outcome, and with that, I gave up on a lot of things when I didn’t see the outcome I thought should happen when I thought is should happen. Now I’m finding great joy in the journey, not the destination. The practice is the destination and happiness flows from this focus on the daily practice. Getting up at 5:30 AM, writing, reading, leading myself and my daughter, etc. Happiness is practicing violin without judgement, practicing and focusing, and with it we are finding that not only are we both progressing in our musical exploits, but in life as well. I am happier, I am more at peace, I am enjoying being alive and learning.
Anna and I are both leaning one of life’s most important lessons, the lesson of commitment and follow through. The promise of commitment and follow through is the reward of self-mastery.