Three Ways to Put Your ‘Self’ Before Improvement
Mozart, My Grandfather and the Zen of You: How to Grant Your Own Gifts of Genius
1. Genius Does Not Question
Granting Yourself Confidence…
There is some debate as to whether Mozart wrote his first musical compositions at age four or five.
There is no debate as to what followed: a brilliant but brief life that included composing a stunning array of operas, concertos, symphonies and sonatas that made him famous not only across Europe — but throughout history.
The story goes that when he was enjoying the peak of his fame and renown, he received a letter from an aspirant youmg composer.
The young composer wrote:
“Herr Mozart, I am thinking of writing a symphony. How should I get started?”
Mozart responded: “A symphony is a very complex musical form and you are still young. Perhaps you should start with something simpler, like a concerto.”
Young Composer: “But Herr Mozart, you were writing symphonies when you were 8 years old.”
Mozart: “Yes, but I never asked anyone how.”
Of course we do not all possess the genius that germinated in prodigal Mozart’s mind.
But we, all of us, possess things we dream of doing; dreams of our better selves, our fondest hopes and most fervent aspirations.
But it’s vital that we remember what they are and where they germinate and take bloom: in ourselves.
Genius does not seek permission; genius requires confidence.
Confidence in ourselves.
Sometimes you just must do.
2. Finding Freedom to Fail Before You Succeed
What We Learn from Ourselves…
My grandpa was not a prodigy and the only thing he ever composed was his own life. Raised in the poor rural South during The Great Depression, he was forced to drop out of school in 8th grade to find work.
As a teenager growing up in a large family near the converging borders of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, the nearest place he could find work as a young teenager was with the Tennessee Valley Authority, where they were building the Pickwick Landing Dam and where during that difficult time, he felt fortunate to be hired on as unskilled labor. Any job was a good job then.
Luck turned to envy and envy to aspiration as he realized that heavy equipment operators were paid more than thrice what he earned. As he toiled and the project grew, several times there were calls for skilled heavy equipment operators.
The way he recalls it, the first time he got a chance, his ineptitude was quickly discovered. Back he went to unskilled labor, grateful for a job, hungry for a better one.
The second time, he lasted half a day before it was discovered he didn’t know heavy equipment. Back he went.
The third time he lasted almost two full days before being found out and sent back to unskilled labor.
But it was a big project and the next time the opportunity presented itself, he quickly volunteered again.
“By then,” he said, “I knew how to drive heavy equipment.”
By trial and error mixed with youthful bravado, he had taught himself.
Unschooled and untutored, he taught himself to help build a dam and thereby helped unleash the power of himself, the biggest project any of us are given to build.
Sometimes you just must do.
3. Finding Where the Answer Lies
What we learn from the wise man…
Another time, another place, the story goes that a heralded wise man was acclaimed for always knowing the answers.
This confounded an irreverent young boy who devised a plan to foil the wise man.
He would catch a butterfly and hold it in his hands and ask the wise man what he held. Expecting the wise old man might well know that he held a butterfly, the boy had plotted to deceive the sage by asking if the butterfly was dead or alive.
If the wise man claimed ‘alive,’ the boy would crush it, proving the wise man wrong. If the wise man claimed ‘dead,’ the boy would open his hands, letting the living butterfly free. Either way the boy would show that he was smarter than the wise man.
The boy caught the butterfly, approached the wise man.
“What do I hold in my hands?” he asked.
“You hold a butterfly, my son,” the wise man replied. And he was right.
Then the young boy asked:
“Sure, old man, but tell me: is the butterfly alive or dead?”
The wise man looked at the boy.
“The answer, my son, is in your hands.”
And so it is. In your hands.
Without question there is great value in finding the right mentors, the right tribe. Genius often germinates in groups.
By all means find a mentor when you need one, be a mentor when you can.
But before you can glean the wisdom of others, it’s vital to remind yourself that your dreams and goals — no matter how large or small — were given birth in you.
We all have lessons to learn; we all have lessons to teach. But the most powerful part about going forward in achieving dreams or fostering others’ is remembering that our selves are our most uniquely valuable assets.
We must believe we hold in our hands the potential for greatness before we can unleash it.
When you grow to believe in yourself and your own capability, you put yourself in the best possible position to learn.
When you learn to believe in others and their unique dreams and values, you put yourself in the best possible position to teach.
Sometimes you don’t ask anyone how.
Sometimes you don’t have a teacher, so you teach yourself.
Sometimes you just do…
Because the answer lies in your hands.
Take flight. And take others with you when you can.