You can always become better at it

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That quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson has always resonated with me. Its release and responsibility a the same time.

Too often in schools, when it comes to the creative arts, those who are “good” are effectively separated from the rest. Encouraged and nurtured to develop their “talent”. Perhaps they will blossom into a great artist or musician, if they put in the hours of course. What about the rest, those who haven’t had the encouraging arm around the shoulder, the affirmations and admiration? What have they learned?

That doing anything creative is only worthwhile if you can become great at it.

Leaving aside any attempts at a definition of greatness, entirely subjective as that is, the important point of people learning not to try unless some externally imposed level of skill can be achieved still stands - and its so destructive. Especially if the measure used for greatness is entirely commercial.

Whether the measure used is financial or meritorious greatness, the emphasis placed on only doing something if you can be great at it is to entirely ignore all the pleasure that can be had from learning something and becoming better at it. The laser-focus on the end-goal skips over every little personal achievement on the way to an end-goal of “greatness” that may never be reached.

Now I’m not in any way saying that we don’t need greatness. I’m very glad, for instance, that there are great engineers in the world every time a plane flies successfully over my house and stays in the air! I’m grateful for the great writers, artists, musicians, designers etc who make us thing and see and feel in ways we hadn’t even contemplated.

But I’m more grateful for those who are simply trying to get better at it. The regular at the acoustic night who gets up each week to play. The blogger searching for their voice with each post The watercolour painter sat at their kitchen table. The people simply trying - and enjoying - getting better at it. I’m most grateful for them.

I’ve long since given up any illusions of greatness being in my reach. I’m happy to accept that true greatness requires the sort of singular dedication to a craft that I’m far too creatively promiscuous to be able to do. But whether I’m picking up a pencil or an instrument, I want to get better at it. I want to celebrate all those little moments where I can see I’ve got better at it - and I want to enjoy all the steps along the path.

So if you’re out there trying to get better at it, then thank you, you’re an inspiration to me! Encourage others to do the same, to try something just because its attractive to them and then get better at it.

Perhaps you will achieve greatness, I don’t know. I can promise you one thing though. You’ll definitely enjoy getting better at it.

Author

McB