Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fast Train

Lately I've noticed many people riding the same train of thought. It goes something like:

I don't want to become some kind of great bass player, I just want to learn to play a few songs.

For bass player you might substitute cook or writer or programmer or athlete or singer, pretty much anyone who's mastered a skill.  You might also substitute physical or environmental states like strong or rich.  The train of thought is the same.

For a while I'd hear this, something would tug at me and then I'd let it pass. As I watched more and more people jumping on the train I started asking about it.

"Wait, so you're saying you really wouldn't want to be a great bass player."

"Nope. I don't need to be great. I'm fine with just being able to play a few songs."

"I know you don't need to be great, but if you could be great would you want to?"

"No, not really."

"But what if you could suddenly become a great bass player.  Wouldn't that appeal to you."

"It might, but it's just not that important to me."

"OK. What if you were a great bass player? Would you give it up to be a mediocre bass player?"

"Uh... well know, of course not."

That's pretty much the thread of it. Doesn't matter the topic. When someone says they don't want to be a great this or that, it would seem that she doesn't really mean it. She means... Well, it could be any number of things.

It could mean: I don't believe I could be... 

It could mean: I don't want to take the time to...

It could mean: I'm too old to...

It could mean: I'm not the kind of person who...

It could mean...  Well, what does it mean when you say it? Are you riding the train to mediocrity?

The bass playing example is interesting to me because bass playing was my ticket on the train. As I practiced, I never envisioned becoming another Jaco Pastorius or Marcus Miller. I envisioned playing well enough to play with a band. I didn't want to become a great bass player.

However, when I walk myself through the same set of questions, I come to the same conclusion. If I were a great bass player, I'd never it give it up so that I could be mediocre.  My reasoning for lower expectations was an amalgam of the above: too much time, effort, etc,  your basic fodder of what is formally known as bullshit.

Even as I embarked on the train to greatness, I kept finding myself routing it down alternate tracks. A hesitation to believe I could do this. A steadfast belief that I couldn't do that. A compromise on how I might become the other thing. Even my finding myself on the wrong track became itself a reason to derail.

So, when I see it, I stop. I back up the train. I start again.

For example, when I noticed my belief that my hands aren't big enough, my fingers not long enough to play a full size bass, I bought a five string with an extra-wide neck. When I noticed my avoidance of material by Jaco Pastorius because he played it all on a fretless bass, I switched from the five string fretted bass to a fretless one modeled on his.

There's something about the train to mediocrity that makes it easy to board. You have to be diligent lest you find yourself aboard it: at least I do.

What train are you riding?

Happy Saturday,
Teflon

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