Starting at the age of nine, I played the clarinet for eight years.
Actually, that’s not true. I took clarinet lessons for eight years when I was a kid, but I’m not sure I ever actually played it.
Eventually, I heard a symphony orchestra member play a clarinet solo. It began with a sustained middle C, and I am 100% certain that never once did I play a note that sounded even close to the way his sounded.
And yet the lessons I was given were all about fingerings and songs and techniques. They were about playing higher or lower or longer notes, or playing more complex rhythms. At no point did someone sit me down and say, “wait, none of this matters if you can’t play a single note that actually sounds good.”
Instead, the restaurant makes the menu longer instead of figuring out how to make even one dish worth traveling across town for. We add many slides to our presentation before figuring out how to utter a single sentence that will give the people in the room chills or make them think. We confuse variety and range with quality.
Practice is not the answer here. Practice, the 10,000 hours thing, practice alone doesn’t produce work that matters. No, that only comes from caring. From caring enough to leap, to bleed for the art, to go out on the ledge, where it’s dangerous. When we care enough, we raise the bar, not just for ourselves, but for our customer, our audience and our partners.
It’s obvious, then, why I don’t play the clarinet any more. I don’t care enough, can’t work hard enough, don’t have the guts to put that work into the world. This is the best reason to stop playing, and it opens the door to go find an art you care enough to make matter instead. Find and make your own music.
The cop-out would be to play the clarinet just a little, to add one more thing to my list of mediocre.
As Jony Ive said, “We did it because we cared, because when you realize how well you can make something, falling short, whether seen or not, feels like failure.”
It’s much easier to add some features, increase your network, get some itemized tasks done. Who wants to feel failure?
We opt for more instead of better.
Better is better than more.
[and here’s the long-lost TED talk…]