"To become a master or a dead man."
- Russian proverb
When I was very young and playing basketball, I used to watch other older guys playing and wondered how is it that those guys played much better than me. From that day on, I was fixed into finding the secret to being successful.
As I grew up and started doing other things as well, like football (soccer for the US guys), as well as playing the guitar, I was also trying to find out how could I get better at it, as fast as possible.
I'm now over 30 years old, and have done many other things in the past, from sports and music to a University career.
I'm going to be very honest:
No, there is no key to success.
Yep, that's all I can say. Not the answer you were looking for?
I'm sure you, as well as me, have gone through multiple websites, blogs, forums, and maybe even a couple of books (yes, books still exist!). Self-help books tend to focus on this subject a lot, which is no surprise of course, as it is a primary desire for most people to know how to master their craft and be successful, as fast as possible. Especially when we refer to our careers.
I'm going to share another revelation I had along my years:
Success is never a destination.
This might be a little obvious to some, and a little awkward to others, since we are so used to hearing tales of success of people in multiple fields. We tend to think of these people as successful and most of the times we do not dwell on that too much, if at all.
However, what happens when we hear tales of people who were successful and went broke on the blink of an eye? This sounds a little harder to define, right? Does that mean that they had a stroke of bad luck, or is it that they were never successful in the first place?
Success, in my opinion, is a journey without any real destination, and it certainly requires two components: an internal and an external.
The internal component is definitely our skill. You definitely need some good skills in order to be successful, and aquiring those skills usually requires practice and knowledge.
Being a successful guitar player requires some skill with the instrument itself, as well as some knowledge of music theory. I know, there have been famous and successful guitar players with little or no formal knowledge of music theory, sure, but still it is desirable to have some basic understanding. However, there is no substitute to practicing your technique and getting the hang of your instrument.
The external component is, you guessed it...luck! However, it's not the kind of luck you must have in order to win the lottery or pass the exam you thought you were going to fail. No, it's no that kind of luck.
The luck I'm referring to is the luck you forge with your actions. You cannot control luck, but you can create the oportunities for luck to pass by. If you want to play in a band, but never hang out with other musicians, how are you going to get lucky and finally make a band? Did you know that James Helfield met Lars Ulrich to form Metallica through an ad in the newspaper? Was that pure luck or looking for luck?
You could also argue that third parties' help is easy to consider as luck too, since not everyone has a Godfather to help them out. However, are you doing what you can to gain such a figure? Are you doing what you need to do in order to gain a mentor?
Let's assume you are already practicing and going out there to create the situations for luck to come to you. What else is there to be done?
There are three steps:
When you are starting a new craft, you cannot pretend to reinvent the wheel at each stage. What's most effective is to first start by repeating what others have done before you. In the case of music, it's a good idea to learn some basics to get started and then play songs. Yes, I'm assuming you want to learn music to make music, is that right? If that is the case, then your ultimate goal will be to create some songs of your own.
Once you have an idea of what to play, and what your "masters" do, it's a good idea to analyze why they play that. This is when knowing some minimum basic theory comes handy although, once again, you can certainly get away with it without knowing any, but it's still recommendable.
Once you know what to play, and why, it becomes much easier to add your own style and flair. Nobody invented rock music out of the blue, of course not. What happened is that little by little each musician started adding their own contrinutions to styles such as blues to form a kind of proto-rock, as I see the music of Robert Johnson. At some point, people started considering it a whole new style and came up with a new name to refer to it.
So, my friend, if you want to achieve success in any walk of life, be prepared to make it a life-long journey.