I was reading the latest issue of one of my favourite newsletters, Michael Neill’s, the other day and he quoted the following from the author W. Somerset Maugham “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” That quote struck me very forcibly because it reminded me that to achieve many of our goals some form of constant practice is involved. This could be learning a language or a musical instrument, getting fit, writing, or some other activity which entails consistent repetition of similar actions over a long period of time.
There is a story about the famous Polish concert pianist Artur Rubinstein. After one of his recitals, a society woman went up to him and said: “Mr. Rubinstein, I would give anything to be able to play like you.” To which Rubinstein replied simply “No, you wouldn’t.” The point of the story is that the woman would no doubt have been prepared to pay handsomely for someone to wave a magic wand so she could play like Rubinstein, but would she have been prepared to give the years and years of study and practice that had gone into his playing? No, of course not.
It helps to have natural talent, and I am sure that both Maugham and Rubinstein had plenty of that. But it is practice that turns talent into achievement. Even if you don’t have much talent, who is going to play the piano better? The person who has talent but never practises, or the person who has less talent but practises hard? Who is going to be the better writer - the person who sits around waiting for inspiration to come, or the person who, like Maugham, finds his inspiration by the act of writing? Who is going to be the better business person - the one who is full of brilliant ideas but keeps chopping and changing waiting for the “right project” or the “right moment”, or the one who takes one idea and works consistently at it?