What’s the special quality behind exceptional performance?

Rob Taylor (Photo credit: Chensey Bradshaw)
Rob Taylor (Photo credit: Chesney Bradshaw)

At 11 pm Rob Taylor, guitarist and singer, is getting ready to play his next set. He will entertain the crowd until 12:30 am. He’s playing a gig this night from 8:30 pm through to 12:30 am and it’s his second gig in two consecutive evenings.

How does a professional musician like Rob keep energised so much so that he is able to work at peak intensity for so many hours?

Just to give you an idea of what a superb and intense guitar player he is, on this evening, a Friday evening, he has already broken three guitar strings. Each time he’s stopped playing, repaired his guitar and come back on stage to play at the same spectacular level. None of this has got him down.

It’s easy to say that it’s all about passion. But what really is passion? What research has been done into what drives people to excel? How do you keep motivated when the inevitable setbacks happen? How do you get back on your horse or get back onto your peak performance when you experience life’s inevitable knocks? What prevents you from folding up in a depressed heap when things go wrong, keeping your sanity and staying at your game rather than falling back into a life of inaction and obscurity?

Perhaps it all starts with knowing what you want to do in life whether it be a profession or vocation. Knowing what motivates you, what drives you, especially over time is important. It’s not easy always to know exactly want what you want to do. Often you have to experiment, try out things, before you find yourself heading in the right direction.

You can’t get away with passion alone. You need to learn your trade. This takes often hours of dedication. For a musician, pilot, entrepreneur, small business person, writer, artist – many thousands of hours are required before you can truly say that you have mastered your art. Acquiring skills takes discipline and putting in the hours and sometimes even years.

Passion also has another dimension and that is putting in the hard work. After learning your skills, you need to get real-world “gigs” where you can test yourself against your audience, professional excellence and customers. This is where you have to adapt and learn as you go along, responding dynamically to change. Customer markets change rapidly and unless you respond quickly enough, you can soon be out of the game.

Putting yourself out there and getting gigs is risky. You’ve got to have a special resilience and hard-nosed determination to make it in any field. These days hyper competition and rules that quickly scratch you out of the game make it even more difficult to get gigs and make a name for yourself.

Some interesting research shows that one of the best predictors of high achievement is follow through. Follow through, it seems, is the single best predictor of significant accomplishment in science, art, sports, communications, organisation or other similar pursuits. This research was conducted among 3,500 participants attending nine different colleges so it seems to have some validity. The researchers also pointed out how follow-through was very important when it relates to an “optimistic explanatory style”. This is very important especially when pursuing long-term goals with perseverance and passion. Positive beliefs about oneself and the route or goal or direction you are pursuing play an important role. More research is always needed with these type of studies but they do give us a general confirmation of what we know ourselves through experience.

A professional like Rob knows also how to energise himself when he needs a boost such as at 11 pm on a Friday night playing full out to revellers at a local watering hole. Such is the grit and determination that pushes him all the way through to 12:30 am when finally he finishes his gig. Then tough work starts for the next 45 minutes as he needs to pack all his electronic sound equipment and speakers as well as musical instruments into his motor vehicle.

Whether you are a start-up owner, would be start-up owner, or small business person, it’s important to realise that passion and perseverance are crucial ingredients for carrying out long-term goals. Doing the work, keeping going and knowing how to lift yourself up when times get really bad might sound like old school but it seems to me that without them you can’t really become a professional.

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