“Not to assume it’s impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it’s humanly possible, you can do it too.” - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.19
There are many reasons why we might not participate in certain activities, develop various skills, or start creative projects, even though we want to. Having a list of excuses for why we can’t do those things can temporarily quell any distress we experience from not pursuing them, but these feelings will inevitably creep up again. This can be especially true when we see someone accomplishing the things we have our hearts set on. Whether it’s another musician playing at a level we dream of reaching, booking a gig we would love to have, or reaching a large audience, we might experience serious envy and resentment. This perspective is unhelpful and will make us miserable. Instead, we would all benefit from adopting a mindset that sees other musicians’ success as evidence we can do those things, too.
In the June 10th entry of Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman’s book The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living, we’re introduced to two kinds of people: “The first looks at others who have accomplished things and thinks: Why them? Why not me? The other looks at those same people and thinks: If they can do it, why can’t I? One is zero-sum and jealous (if you win, I lose). The other is non-zero-sum (there’s plenty to go around) and sees the success of others as inspiration.”
Adopting the zero-sum attitude of the first person described won’t get us anywhere, and will instead severely diminish our experience with music. It persuades us to feel defeated before we’ve even tried. We might think: If someone else has already done it, then what’s the point? This viewpoint is like going to a restaurant because you’re hungry, but leaving without food because there are people there who are already eating. Just because someone else has already done what we want to do doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it as well—otherwise we’ll be left with a hunger that’s never satiated.
If we take on the non-zero-sum perspective of the second person, we can see other people’s success as indicators of what is possible. The accomplishments of other musicians can inspire us to start a regular practice habit, create our own art, or perform in front of an audience. Where only fear and doubt may have existed within us before, the wins of others can instead sow courage and optimism. This way of thinking also lets us see our fellow musicians as co-creators with us in this wide world of music, and will help us feel genuine satisfaction at witnessing their success. The old economic aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats'' is applicable here: when one musician succeeds, we all do.
If we don’t do something because we assume it’s too hard, or we think only a select few can ever accomplish what we’d like to do, we’ll never be able to show ourselves—and the world—what we are capable of. We run the risk of living our lives full of regret and resentment because we aren’t doing what we want and rising to our full potential. If we can instead use the achievements of other musicians as proof of what can be done, we’ll be able to take the steps necessary to realize our own victories. Although the specific path we follow might differ from the ones other musicians have taken, if we give genuine and consistent effort to hone our craft and share our unique voice, we too can show others what’s possible. While no level of success can be predicted, you can be sure you’ll never get anymore if you don’t try. So why not try? Life is too short to not do what we’re called to do.