Last week I had the privilege of seeing Felix Riebl, band leader and lead singer of The Cat Empire, perform as part of a larger concert for NSW Public Schools.
I was rightly impressed, to say the least, by his incredible songwriting and musical skill.
But I was not as impressed by his talents as I might once have been.
Before you start scratching your head at such an outlandish statement, let me explain.
I have come to find far greater beauty in courage and persistence than in skill alone.
I was very much raised in what Carol Dweck describes as a fixed mindset. In a fixed mindset, you believe that your abilities, talents and intelligence are fixed traits. That people are born with innate aptitudes. Or not.
Growing up with a fixed mindset was crippling for me. I easily became frustrated at my limitations and felt helpless to improve them. Stumbling blocks, when they came, were a rude, unexpected shock. And they seemed to confirm what I feared – maybe I wasn’t that talented after all! I idolised people who played piano or sang better than me, because I saw them as being fundamentally separate or different from me. They possessed abilities I did not have, and that I firmly believed I could never have.
It was hopeless situation.
Have you heard the saying, “Better to try and fail than never to try at all”? My mindset was “Better to never try and never know your own ineptitude.”
What was it that ultimately lifted my paralysis?
Over time, I came to observe that courage, perseverance and hard work are far greater predictors of success than “talent.” I became curious about people’s journeys, not just the resulting skill. I saw many “naturally-gifted” people give up at the first sign of struggle. And I saw many novices slowly become experts through blood, sweat and tears, and through having the courage to get up and try, try, try again.
Everything started to seem possible once I’d observed this trend. I no longer idolised great displays of skill from a distance. Instead I thought – “With a little hard work, I reckon I could do that!”
Carol Dweck calls this a growth mindset. It is the belief that one’s most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hardwork, and that failures are an opportunity to learn and grow.
Seeing Felix Riebl’s incredible musicianship on display made me curious about his journey. I know little of his story, but I can predict that he has tripped and fallen and picked himself up more times than he can probably remember, that he has persevered through failures, big and small, that he has had the courage to put himself out there, and to keep putting himself out there, time and time again. How else could he be so good at what he does? How else could he have sustained such longevity in his career?
Natural talent may exist. But it’s not enough. And it’s probably not even necessary.
But courage definitely is.