Five Things I’ve Learned About What It Takes to Reach the Top

What if you had the opportunity to sit down with thirty of the world’s most fascinating and accomplished leaders and have an intimate talk? And what if these luminaries shared their unfiltered tales of navigating the rocky road to success – then distilled the most essential advice and wisdom they had to offer? Over the course of five years, I managed to do exactly this, and my new book Getting There: A Book of Mentors is the result. Here are five of the many tips in the book that are applicable to musicians:

1. Keep Your Muscles Exercised

Legendary composer Hans Zimmer says, “The majority of skilled musicians I know have been practicing about eight hours a day from the time they were six or seven years old. Growing up I played all day long — and I still do. One of the reasons I continue to work so much is that, whenever I’ve taken a lengthy break, I’ve felt rusty when I return. I imagine it to be the way a runner trains every day. If he stops for any period of time, his muscles atrophy and he’ll have to work even harder to build them up again.”

2. Don’t Set a Time Limit For Yourself

Matthew Weiner’s hit TV show Mad Men was rejected all over Hollywood and only made it to the screen seven years after it was written. He says, “The most defeatist thing I hear is, “I’m going to give it a couple of years.” You can’t set a clock for yourself…You should want it so badly that you don’t have a choice. You have to commit for the long haul. There’s no shame in being a starving artist. Get a day job, but don’t get too good at it.”

3. Find Your Own Language

Renowned architect Frank Gehry says, “When I was in architecture school, I was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright – and some of my early work looks creepily like his – but as soon as I realized what I was doing, I cleansed myself and stopped. I now tell architecture students to take out a piece of paper and sign their names, because everyone’s signature has a different aesthetic. I say, “That’s yours. You did it intuitively and that’s what you’ve got to do in other areas of your life. Don’t look over your shoulder at what other people are doing. When you are yourself, your work will be stronger and you will slowly realize that you are the only expert on it – so what other people say won’t matter.”

4. Repetition Will Kill You

Performance artist Marina Abramović explains, “In postgraduate school I had a special professor who told me something I will never forget. He said, ‘If you draw with your right hand and become so skilled that you can even close your eyes and make any kind of drawing, immediately change to the left. Repetition will kill you.’ Once an artist has achieved a certain level of success, he often stops growing. He is afraid to experiment and go in other directions because he could fail. It is really important for an artist to accept failure and be true to himself. I certainly don’t like all the art I have created, and I have put on some terrible performances! What you learn from one failure can be concentrated and transmitted to the next thing you do.”

5. Brush Off Criticism, Then Move Forward

He is now the most commercially successful artist alive, but it took Jeff Koons nine years after graduating from art school to make enough money from his art to give up having a second job. He says,“Gaining recognition requires patience and a thick skin. Everybody encounters disappointments along the way. If even one person says, “I don’t get it,” about your work, it’s easy to feel a real sense of failure. My work has been harshly criticized at times. When that occurs, I remember that not everything can appeal to everyone, and I brush it off and move on. It’s essential to remember what your motives are and pull yourself together so you can be as fresh when you present your work to the next person as you were before the criticism.”

Gillian Zoe Segal is the author of Getting There: A Book of Mentors and New York Characters. She received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Michigan and a law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She lives in Manhattan and is also a photographer. Find out more at www.gillianzoesegal.com

from KeyboardMag www.keyboardmag.com/education/five-things-ive-learned-about-what-it-takes-to-reach-the-top
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