Don't Stick to What You're Good At

photo by visual.dichotomy

photo by visual.dichotomy

I was listening to an album of solo acoustic guitar music played by a virtuoso of the instrument, when suddenly it came to a track where he started singing. My first gut reaction to his less-than-stellar vocal ability was to say, “Whoa dude, stop. Stick to what you’re good at.”

But then I realized that’s complete bullshit.

I think it’s really important for us to be able to accept our limitations. It keeps us humble, realistic people in touch with our imperfections and humanity. But accepting your limitations is not the same as limiting yourself. Accepting limitations has nothing to do with saying, “I’ll never be able to do that, so I just won’t try.” In some ways, it’s actually the opposite; it’s saying “I may not be the greatest at this particular thing, but I’m gonna give it my all anyway.”


Ryan Seacrest, Here I Come!


For example, I know I’m generally a better guitarist than I am a singer. If I auditioned for American Idol, I wouldn’t make it very far. But the fact is, I enjoy singing, whether it’s on my own or performing live for a crowd, so I do it. I wouldn’t say that I have a great passion for singing, and that would be one reason (among several I’m sure) that I wouldn’t try out for a nationally televised singing competition. But if I really, really loved to sing and thought to myself, “What the hell, maybe I should go for it and audition,” I would be inclined to do it.

Recognizing that I may not have the voice to be the next Sam Cooke is accepting my natural limitations and keeping me grounded. But knowing that I would still try to pursue that path if I really had a passion for it, if I truly loved singing more than anything… That’s knowing that I wouldn’t limit myself. If anything, knowing your limits takes pressure off and frees your mind to let you do amazing things—it’s an almost contradictory result. And if you have real passion, anything is worth pursuing. Jimi Hendrix didn’t think he could sing at all, but when he heard Bob Dylan’s music he thought, “Fuck it, I’ll give it a try.” A few people have now heard of him.


Skill And Passion Are Unrelated


It doesn’t have to be singing. It can be a business idea, a movie script, a romantic pursuit, a sport. And it’s certainly nice to find something that you’re great at, but if it’s not what you have a passion for, there’s not much point in doing it for very long. I’ve known several people who stuck with something they didn’t really enjoy for a long time just because they had skill, and that seemed like enough for them to keep doing it. Eventually, the bottom always drops out.

The acoustic guitar virtuoso I was listening to might have a secret passion for singing for all I know, and who am I to say he shouldn’t do that? Do what you love to do. No matter what. Even if you don’t think you’re very good at it. You’ll probably get better.

And if you don’t, who cares, anyway?