Find What You Love and Let It Kill You

The article below is by my favorite author Steven Pressfield.

By STEVEN PRESSFIELD | Published: AUGUST 26, 2015

This is my favorite of all the posts we’ve ever run on this site. (Mainly because it’s not written by me.) I read it every few months just to psych myself up. It’s an article written by English concert pianist James Rhodes that appeared originally in the Guardian (UK).

Why do I love Mr. Rhodes’ story of his bold move to change his life and become an artist?

1) Because James is a late bloomer. Much as I admire child prodigies, I hate them too because they found their calling so young and with so little agony. I like to see someone suffer before they find their way.

2) James’ saga illustrates the depth of passion that such a journey requires—and the depth of madness. (Note the casual allusion to “nine months in a mental hospital.”)

3) James’ does not romanticize his life as an artist. No, he does not sail through the day whistling and grinning. And yes, the grind is still a grind. But he has gone from working for the Man to being the Man himself.

My life as a concert pianist can be frustrating, lonely, demoralising and exhausting. But is it worth it? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt

James Rhodes

Friday 26 April 2013

After the inevitable “How many hours a day do you practice?” and “Show me your hands”, the most common thing people say to me when they hear I’m a pianist is “I used to play the piano as a kid. I really regret giving it up.” I imagine authors have lost count of the number of people who have told them they “always had a book inside them”. We seem to have evolved into a society of mourned and misplaced creativity. A world where people have simply surrendered to (or been beaten into submission by) the sleepwalk of work, domesticity, mortgage repayments, junk food, junk TV, junk everything, angry ex-wives, ADHD kids and the lure of eating chicken from a bucket while emailing clients at 8pm on a weekend.

Do the math. We can function—sometimes quite brilliantly—on six hours’ sleep a night. Eight hours of work was more than good enough for centuries (oh the desperate irony that we actually work longer hours since the invention of the internet and smartphones). Four hours will amply cover picking the kids up, cleaning the flat, eating, washing and the various etceteras. We are left with six hours. 360 minutes to do whatever we want. Is what we want simply to numb out and give Simon Cowell even more money? To scroll through Twitter and Facebook looking for romance, bromance, cats, weather reports, obituaries and gossip? To get nostalgically, painfully drunk in a pub where you can’t even smoke?

What if you could know everything there is to know about playing the piano in under an hour (something the late, great Glenn Gould claimed, correctly I believe, was true)? The basics of how to practise and how to read music, the physical mechanics of finger movement and posture, all the tools necessary to actually play a piece – these can be written down and imparted like a flat-pack furniture how-to-build-it manual; it then is down to you to scream and howl and hammer nails through fingers in the hope of deciphering something unutterably alien until, if you’re very lucky, you end up with something halfway resembling the end product.

What if for a couple of hundred quid you could get an old upright on eBay delivered? And then you were told that with the right teacher and 40 minutes proper practice a day you could learn a piece you’ve always wanted to play within a few short weeks. Is that not worth exploring?

What if rather than a book club you joined a writer’s club? Where every week you had to (really had to) bring three pages of your novel, novella, screenplay and read them aloud?

What if, rather than paying £70 a month for a gym membership that delights in making you feel fat, guilty and a world away from the man your wife married you bought a few blank canvases and some paints and spent time each day painting your version of “I love you” until you realised that any woman worth keeping would jump you then and there just for that, despite your lack of a six-pack?

I didn’t play the piano for 10 years. A decade of slow death by greed working in the City, chasing something that never existed in the first place (security, self-worth, Don Draper albeit a few inches shorter and a few women fewer). And only when the pain of not doing it got greater than the imagined pain of doing it did I somehow find the balls to pursue what I really wanted and had been obsessed by since the age of seven—to be a concert pianist.

Admittedly I went a little extreme—no income for five years, six hours a day of intense practice, monthly four-day long lessons with a brilliant and psychopathic teacher in Verona, a hunger for something that was so necessary it cost me my marriage, nine months in a mental hospital, most of my dignity and about 35lbs in weight. And the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is not perhaps the Disney ending I’d envisaged as I lay in bed aged 10 listening to Horowitz devouring Rachmaninov at Carnegie Hall.

My life involves endless hours of repetitive and frustrating practising, lonely hotel rooms, dodgy pianos, aggressively bitchy reviews, isolation, confusing airline reward programmes, physiotherapy, stretches of nervous boredom (counting ceiling tiles backstage as the house slowly fills up) punctuated by short moments of extreme pressure (playing 120,000 notes from memory in the right order with the right fingers, the right sound, the right pedalling while chatting about the composers and pieces and knowing there are critics, recording devices, my mum, the ghosts of the past, all there watching), and perhaps most crushingly, the realisation that I will never, ever give the perfect recital. It can only ever, with luck, hard work and a hefty dose of self-forgiveness, be “good enough.”

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And yet. The indescribable reward of taking a bunch of ink on paper from the shelf at Chappell of Bond Street. Tubing it home, setting the score, pencil, coffee and ashtray on the piano and emerging a few days, weeks or months later able to perform something that some mad, genius, lunatic of a composer 300 years ago heard in his head while out of his mind with grief or love or syphilis. A piece of music that will always baffle the greatest minds in the world, that simply cannot be made sense of, that is still living and floating in the ether and will do so for yet more centuries to come. That is extraordinary. And I did that. I do it, to my continual astonishment, all the time.

The government is cutting music programmes in schools and slashing Arts grants as gleefully as a morbidly American kid in Baskin Robbins. So if only to stick it to the man, isn’t it worth fighting back in some small way? So write your damn book. Learn a Chopin prelude, get all Jackson Pollock with the kids, spend a few hours writing a Haiku. Do it because it counts even without the fanfare, the money, the fame and Heat photo-shoots that all our children now think they’re now entitled to because Harry Styles has done it.

Charles Bukowski, hero of angsty teenagers the world over, instructs us to “find what you love and let it kill you“. Suicide by creativity is something perhaps to aspire to in an age where more people know Katie Price better than the Emperor concerto. Copyright (c) Guardian News and Media Limited. 2014 Registered in England.

5 Dangerous Trends in Competitions

… And What You Can Do to Avoid the Pitfalls That Routinely Cause Failure for Thousands of Students (But Nobody Tells You About)

If you dream of success in your exam or competition for exciting bright future, this is the most important message you’ll ever read.

I say that because you’ll discover below the 5 Dangerous Trends for Competitions and how you can get ahead of your classmates to get success of your dreams.

Let me explain the 5 dangerous trends briefly (but in sufficient detail so you fully understand the danger they pose to your success and know some solutions to keep you safe):

Dangerous Trend #1:
Everyone Joins Coaching

Over the last 30 years, the number of students joining coaching (for some of the tough competitions like CAT, IITJEE, IAS, etc) has increased 100 times, but seats have only doubled.

What does that mean for you?

It means that the competition now is 50 times more intense and difficult than it was decades ago.

And, yet most coaching institutes let the students and parents believe that “joining coaching almost guarantees success”, while the TRUTH is that ONLY 1 to 2 percent of students  taking coaching get success in most tough competitions.

Dangerous Trend #2:
The Curse of Study Material Overload

The direct “side-effect” of universal coaching is that students have too much study material including text books, coaching study material, one more coaching classes study material and some reference books.

Decades before, when I was preparing for IIT-JEE, it was hard to get good study material.

But now, everybody has got “too much” of average to good study material.

Unfortunately, students don’t have enough time to study, learn, remember, and master all the good coaching material they have.

Dangerous Trend #3:
Mild to Severe Irregular Bio-Rhythms

Perhaps you know that our body has its own clock-the clock that tells us when to sleep and when to get up-and when to eat and when take a nap.

But, extremely tough competition in competitions and easy availability of too much study material leads to the problem that students eat at irregular hours and sleep at irregular hours.

Sleep problems can become commonplace.

Sleep deprivation can cause several problems such as constant tiredness, frustration, lack of confidence, irritability.

Dangerous Trend #4:
Emergence of One Crucial Subject

Strange as it may seem, there seems to be one crucial subject in each competition.

For example, Physics seems to have become the most crucial subject in IIT-JEE.

Another example, English seems to be the most crucial subject in CAT (because a lot of candidates are engineers who score very well in Maths, but tend to be weak (or very weak) in English

If you can master the subject that is crucial for your competition and do much better than other students (which is possible), then your chances of success greatly increase.

Most students don’t realize this.

Not all coaching institutes emphasize this.

So, not all students take benefit of this trend.

Most Dangerous Trend #5:
Ambitious Dreams of Students and Parents Result in “Depression” for Many Students (and they are not even aware of it)

As you can intuitively know, this trend does not exist on its own, but it direct result of the above 4 dangerous trends.

I call this the MOST DANGEROUS TREND because it can immobilize students. It can leave students without energy or motivation to study / learn or to get success. It can lead to many problems.

Fortunately, not all students suffer from this.

But, if you think you suffer from this, please change your diet (eat raw food), take vitamins, exercise, learn online “Dr Saul Niacin Depression” to find out how vitamin B3 can help you without side effects (as opposed to the psychiatric drugs which have serious side effects).

What Can You Do for Your Own Success?

  • Avoid the problems as is obvious from the above discussion
  • Study hard AND study smart (study smart = use mind tools, exam tricks, study techniques)
  • For all kinds of exams and subjects (including IAS, CA, ICWA, IIT, CAT, UPSC, PO, Law, ENglish, Maths, …) I strongly recommend you to use our powerful Mind Machine
  • If you are preparing for CAT, GRE, and GMAT, you can build your vocab in effortless way by using the Vocab Builder Mind Machine

Wishing you success,

Raj Bapna