When I was a teenager, my mom did a really nice thing for my birthday.
I had a favorite band, and it turns out the aunt of one of the musicians lived in my town. As a surprise, my mom arranged for this woman to join us for lunch and regale me with stories about my hero.
The one that I remember best was shocking. “None of us expected [rock star] to become a famous musician,” the aunt told me. “We all thought it would be her sister.”
It turns out, her sister was a Juilliard-trained musician with a gorgeous, classically beautiful voice. My hero? Her voice was compelling, but it was a little rough, a little gravelly, and I’m not sure she could hit that many octaves, even if you put a gun to her head.
She wasn’t the best musician – not even in her own family. And that was a liberating discovery for me.
For all of us, it can be easy to feel inadequate sometimes. I know I’m a pretty good writer – better than most – but when I pick up a book by someone like Michael Lewis, I can tell I’m in the hands of a master.
How can I compete with that? How does he know to structure the book like that? How does he build suspense – like a mystery novel – into a nonfiction business book? It would be easy to get paralyzed, or to step back and say, I just can’t write as well as he can.
We all know talent isn’t sufficient to make it big. There are plenty of people – like the rock star’s sister – who are extraordinarily capable, but don’t get widely recognized for their skills.
But fewer people focus on the converse: the very interesting realization that great talent isn’t really necessary. You have to be talented enough, of course, and my rock star hero had a fine and capable voice. But her value wasn’t in her talent.
Plenty of people could sing better than she did. But she had a unique presence and point of view that helped her break through and build a devoted audience. She had mastered the art of being herself. That was the value she could bring.
Too many people seem to believe that “talent” is one objective playing field, and the most talented wins. It’s not, of course, and the upshot is that we no longer have any excuses.
We can’t sit back and say, my voice isn’t the best, or my product isn’t the best, or my resume isn’t the best, so I won’t even try. The truth is, you can succeed beyond your wildest dreams, even without being the best.
You just need to be good enough, and bring an extra layer of passion and insight – which only you can offer – that makes the end product irresistible to others. That’s how my favorite band built their career, and it’s how you can build yours.