- June 10, 2020
Many years ago, a new flute was invented, simple yet sophisticated, light in the palm of the hand yet the music it released set heavy on hearts. Magical. No other word could possibly begin to describe this flute. It happened that however, there was only one man, a Japanese master, who could breathe into the flute and bring out its full magic. Other musicians did not know their way around this flute. This bolstered the popularity of the Japanese master. His name went ahead of him and respect for his skillset swelled with each passing day.
One sweltering Saturday afternoon, a younger musician approached the Japanese master’s door and confidently knocked on it. When the door swung open, he had one request, “Teach me your ways, I would love to learn how to play the new flute”, the young musician said. And so a teacher-student relationship begun. For the next three years, however, what the young musician expected to be a fun-filled journey turned into sheer disappointment and pain. Each day, the master would make him play the same tune over and over again, and every time he did, all the master said was: Something is missing.
You can imagine being in a class where your teacher, for three years, keeps giving you the same assignment, speedily thumbs through it when you present it, and only says, “Something is missing”.
Disappointment found a breeding place in the young man’s heart and one morning he packed his bags and left. He turned to the bottle and hit it hard, the past three years had reduced him into an ever-inebriated boozer.
It was while at a bar boozing as he was now accustomed to, that he found himself at an open mic event. A few musicians played their instruments and entertained a crowd of happy revellers. As the night aged, the bar owner requested the young musician to perform. At first, he was hesitant, but then he thought, “I have that flute, and I know that sick tune the teacher made me play ad nauseum, what do I have to lose?”
Stepping onto the stage, he steeled himself, closed his eyes and begun breathing into his flute. When he was done, a great hush fell over the crowd. An old man stood and shouted, “Wow, he played like a god!”
A question: When did the young musician learn how to play the new flute like a god?
The answer: In the three years of painful practice.
The journey of personal development is one of constant, continuous and sometimes painful practice. Human strengths could be natural and innate, but they need to be deliberately developed even when the journey gets marred with pain and frustrations. We’ll always need a tad more exercise, a little more practice; something will always be missing because self-development is a never-ending process. Mostly when we see a performer thrill us on the stage, we applaud and even call for an encore, severely marvelled by the three minutes of performance, but blind to the hours, days, months of painful training backstage. Every human being has their own unique strengths, and each can develop them to a point their excellence will be referred to as ‘like a god’. A genius is not a unique kind of a person, but every person is a unique kind of a genius.
The first step towards becoming, or reinventing yourself, is to discover your strengths. The following questions, I call them pointers, could point you in the right direction. I hope you can think about them in your quietude and listen to their soft whispers beckoning you to your strengths.
- What ignites your curiosity?
- What do people compliment you for?
- If you did not have to wake up to go to work every morning for a pay, because you had everything you ever wanted in this world, what’s that one hobby or act of service you’d still do because it came attached to your breathing?
- What kinds of personalities/professionals attract your attention?
- What makes you lose track of time because it makes your heart sing?
- What would you easily sacrifice for? (I have this friend who sold her phone to raise enough money to buy a sewing machine because she loves to design clothes)
- What are you quick to grasp, and even when you fail to grasp it, you do not give up?
- What legacy would you want to leave behind?
The sad reality is that you can discover your strengths but fail to accept. Most of the times we fail to accept because of the fear of foolishness; that is the fear of being thought a fool, and the fear of actually being a fool. Society has painstakingly created patterns and you are expected to align with those patterns. On the one hand, you think to yourself, ‘if I follow my strengths, which don’t meet societal expectations, I will be thought a fool’. On the other hand, you fear that if you ignore everything else and build your strengths, you may fail and end up actually looking like a fool.
However, we are in full control of our lives and in as much as anyone can advise us, no one can make that final decision for us. And sometimes, fear isn’t there to scare us but to point us towards what’s really worth it. I call it the art of being scared yet fearless.
It’s only by accepting that we can begin to deliberately build our strengths while avoiding the comparison trap of whose strength is better than ours. Comparison only dulls our light and mutes our strengths. You cannot be everything…you cannot do everything…but you can do something; and that something is your everything.
Building will entail choosing the people to walk with/work with, and they come in two: constructive judges and obstructive judges. The former fuel you whereas the latter throw sand in your gears. Know where to draw the line.
A simple way to build your strengths is to start connecting today with the future. Where or what do you want to be? What do you need? What do you already have? What don’t you have? Once you have the answers to these questions, do something little every day to bridge that gap. It could be reading a page of a book, calling someone and learning from them, signing up for a short online course, practising; whatever it is, do something to bridge that gap. After all, ‘something is missing’. And while at it, expect pain and frustration, but grow through it. It’s amazing to see what happens when we don’t give up.