Grit > Talent

I remember when I was in high school and just getting seriously invested in playing the drums.

I would practice for 8 hours a day every day without fail. Even when my family and I drove 18 hours to visit my cousins every summer, I would bring a practice pad and play in the car non-stop.

Instead of partying on the weekends like everyone else, I would practice. In my mind, this was the only way I could get out of the small, incredibly poor town that I'm from, so I invested everything into it.

Even with all of this practice and all of this focus, there were plenty of people my age who could play tons better than me. I also made a couple of friends that barely needed to practice. They were among the rare few that "had it" naturally.

As years went on, I kept falling behind them. My skills would grow, but not nearly at the rate of any of my naturally talented peers. It was discouraging, but I still pushed as hard as I could to get better.

And after almost a decade of playing the drums, I ended up going to the Berklee College of Music, where I saw all of this happen to an even greater extent.

I saw prodigies who barely touched their instrument be in the top 1% of playing ability. I saw people who never showed up to class performing at huge gigs and playing circles around everyone else. They were also the ones getting most of the scholarship money.

And then I saw something that I didn't understand at the time.

I saw many of these incredibly talented naturals get crushed by the tiniest of failures.

Losing one gig would cause them to go into a spiral of despair. Being bested by someone else would cause them to question their very existence. Hell, I saw one of them burst into tears at getting a B on a test.

But now, in hindsight, it all makes sense.

Everything came incredibly easy to these people, so they never once had to tough anything out. They grew up surrounded by praise and attention. They didn't know the sting of failure.

As soon as the smallest negative came into their life, they were shattered. And most of the time, they quit. They didn't have the opportunity to build grit.

I even did a quick search on the people who got full scholarships in the years surrounding my time at Berklee. Out of 12, only 2 of them are still in the music industry.

Think about that, out of 12 people that Berklee deemed to be good enough to receive hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in scholarships, only 2 stayed the course.

Now, maybe some of them realized that they wanted to do something else with their lives. Great. Nothing wrong with that.

But out of a dozen people, I think it's a pretty safe bet to assume at least a few more than two wanted to make music for a living.

I mention all of this because every single one of us (myself included) has thought about quitting our pursuit to work in games. 

We wonder if we should just get a regular job.

We wonder if we have what it takes.

Often, we'll get into a slump and wonder if all the insane amounts of effort are worthwhile. And we think that we must not have the natural personality, gifts, or talents that would ensure our success.

Most dangerously, we start to think that we can't grow and change - that all we have now is all we'll have forever.

I'm here to tell you that it's not just natural ability that's going to take us to the next level. Sure, it helps, but it is far from what defines our future.

A considerable part of what determines our futures is grit. 

Grit is the ability to face adversity and grow. It's the ability to make intelligent decisions whether we're on top of the world, or at a low point in our lives. 

To this day, I'm still thankful to my childhood drum instructor, Karl, who during our first lesson, said "We're here to develop skill. We're not interested in talent."

I think about that line almost every day. I'm not a natural. Nothing in the game audio world has ever come easily to me. It takes a tremendous amount of focus, work, and failure to move just a few inches forward.

That's a regular part of this process, though. We're not in this because it's easy.

Is there somewhere in your life where you can have more grit? Is there something that you've been resisting? What's keeping you from pushing through to the next level?