- What It Takes To Be Great
- What It Takes To Be Great 2: AJATT and Malcolm McDowell’s Outliers…wait…
- What It Takes to Be Great 3: Follow-Up
- What It Takes to Be Great 4: Capablanca
- Aim to Fail
- You can have do or be ANYthing, but you can’t have do or be EVERYthing
- Why Do People Who Have All the Time in the World Get Nothing Done?
- How To Accomplish Great Things: Small Victories, Winnable Games
In college, I worked as a janitor. Supposedly because all the TA spots were filled up. Looking back, I should have been more enterprising. But more on that later. Whatever it is about janitorial work from 10pm at night to 6am in the marnin’, it brings out something in people. In my case, it was arguments about the randomest crap ever. My favorite kid to argue with was dark-haired, buff, belligerent, French-looking and French-speaking Chris.
He was a 400m runner on the track team, but had quit because he thought he would never get good. Specifically, he said he had quit running because he could never be as quick as the Africans on the team; they had “fast-twitch muscles”. I told him that he was spewing 24-carat B.S., and that the real reason he could never be good was that he had given up on it. So, I guess the bullet point you can take away from that is persistence matters and never give up. My good mate Calvin Klein 😉 put it best:
“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
Which is nice, and we could talk about Calvin Coolidge all day. But enough of designers and dead presidents; back to me. So, later, still in college, at a nicer job, I worked with yet another dark-haired, bellicose, French speaker. His name was Peter. He also argued that because he wasn’t African, he could never be good at basketball; he could never be Michael Jordan; he could never be 6’8” (or however tall MJ is), look good with a bald head and have “fingers as long as bananas”…He must be right, right?
Rhetorical question. Peter was wrong. Handsome, but wrong. If his goal was to look like Michael Jordan, then that was one thing (cosmetic surgery). If his goal was to play exactly like Michael Jordan, then that, too, was one thing (acting). And if his goal was to score as many points as Jordan, or play in the NBA like Jordan, then that was yet another thing (practice).
In my own roundabout way, what I’m trying to explain is that Peter thought that playing as well as Jordan meant the same as being Jordan; he was failing because he had conflated Jordan’s appearance with Jordan’s skill; he was trying to be too many things: to be tall, to be black and to be good at basketball. He should have just picked the one: becoming good at basketball. Practice would get him there. He has a nice body on him, and could teach that body basketball. At the end of the day, Michael Jordan is a human being; he breathes air and his pooh smells; he taught himself an advanced skill just like every other human being has; he became the best in his field through extensive practice and dedication — he and Larry Bird are famous in the NBA for being particularly dedicated to practice, with the habit of always starting it earlier, doing it longer and harder than all their teammates. As Calvin Klein said, talent won’t get you anywhere, nothing is more common than talented people who are failing in what they do.
Now, unfortunately, in order to be like Mike, Peter might have to scale back on things like school, candy and hanging out with ditzy girls with names like “Kimberley”. But if he really wanted to do it, he could get into the NBA and break Jordan’s records. But therein lies the problem: Peter probably wasn’t willing to do those things. He wanted it all. Sorry, Peter, no dice.
You can have be or do ANYTHING. It’s not just something the nice teacher at school told you; it’s the truth. But you cannot have, be or do EVERYTHING.
You can learn Japanese to fluency. But it will cost you. Not much money; I must have spent less than $1000 directly on Japanese over a period of 18 months. But time, friends, attention; these things are a form of wealth, too. And Japanese demands them.
Your parents may have told you, when you were a kid, “nothing in this world is for free”; “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. They were probably angry at you, or themselves, when they said this, so it has a bad association for you. They were probably giving you the “don’t flirt with pedophiles” talk…
What your parents meant to tell you is this: everything in this life is acquired in exchange for something. Whether or not that medium of exchange is money is inconsequential. It’s kind of the “Law of Conservation of Stuff”: all things being equal, stuff is neither created nor destroyed, but is traded for other stuff, one way or another. Even if someone gives you something for free, they are exchanging the loss of that thing, for the gain of extra space, or your friendship. Our parents may have made it all sound like a bad thing (“nothing is free”), but it’s actually a good thing; it’s wonderful. Because the fact that everything has a “price” (an exchange rate) means that everything can be “bought”. All you need do is make the exchange.
In terms of learning Japanese, there is essentially one thing to exchange: your language. And that means everything that is in your language. The people, the literature, the food, whatever. You have to want to know Japanese better than whatever your native language is. You must desire Japanese so much that you would be willing give up (exchange) your native language for it. As it turns out, this exchange is only temporary. But, if you do not have the desire to make the exchange, if you desire to hang on to a non-Japanese life, to non-Japanese friends, and to non-Japanese books/movies/songs, while you’re trying to learn Japanese, then, I am by no means telling you that you will fail, but don’t be surprised if you do. And if you do fail, don’t blame it on your ability. Your ability was never insufficient. It was your desire that was lacking; your desire for Japanese was insufficient, it simply didn’t outstrip your desire to see Pirates of the Caribbean 4: Black People in the Lagoon are Cursing with your friend Matt, before the Japanese dub came out. You wanted it all; you wanted both the non-Japanese life and the Japanese life. Well, guess what — those two things tend to cancel each other out.
Let me say it again: you can have, do or be ANYthing, but you cannot have, be or do EVERYthing. As long as you want it enough to do something about it, then you will have native- fluency in Japanese. So, if Japanese is what you want, then get ON it. ALL OVER IT. STICK TO IT. Live Japanese. Breathe Japanese. Drink it. Sleep it. Everywhere. Everything. All the time. Ignore other languages; push them out of your life like small children that get in your way when you’ve been standing in line all night waiting to buy a PlayStation 3; hey, those kids had it coming ;).
And why do all this? Well, because you want to. You want Japanese, that’s why. You want to function in Japanese society; you want to read the newspaper, go to the bank, write the book, watch the anime, read the manga, make the friends….whatever. And you’re willing to make this exchange in order to get it.