Study Hacks Blog

Closing Your Interests Opens More Interesting Opportunities: The Power of Diligence in Creating a Remarkable Life

January 29th, 2012 · 56 comments

The Banjo Player

Steve Martin made the comments around twenty minutes into his 2007 interview with Charlie Rose. They were talking about how Martin learned the banjo.

“In high school, I couldn’t play an instrument,” Martin admits.

“I remember getting my first banjo, and reading the book saying ‘this is how you play the C chord,’ and I put my fingers down to play the C chord and I couldn’t tell the difference.”

“But I told myself,” he continued, “just stick with this, just keep playing, and one day you’ll have been playing for 40 years, and at this point, you’ll know how to play.”

Learning banjo is not easy, especially at a time and place (1960’s California) where banjo lessons were not a possibility. Martin’s technique was to take Earl Scruggs records and slow them down from 33 RPM to 16 RPM. He would then tune down the banjo to match the slower speed and start picking out the notes, painstakingly, one by one.

Years later, Martin began to integrate the banjo into his act.

“The reason I played [banjo] on stage,” he explained in an ABC interview, “is because…I thought it’s probably good to show the audience I can do something that looks hard, because this act looks like I’m just making it up.”

As he kept playing and practicing he got better.

In 2009, Martin released his first album, “The Crow.” It won a Grammy. (Last month he was nominated for his second Grammy.)

This was 50 years after Martin picked up his first Banjo — not far off from the 40 years he had predicted as a teenager it would take him to “know how to play.”

Martin’s Diligence

One of the things that has always impressed me about Steve Martin is his diligence. In his memoir, Born Standing Up, he emphasizes this theme — defining diligence not just in terms of persistence, but also in the ability to ignore unrelated pursuits.

Martin was, of course, being facetious when he pepped himself up with the idea that it would only take 40 years to get good at the banjo (he was playing at a high-level in his act within 5 – 10 years of starting his training), but this statement reflects a deeper truth: getting good at something is not to be taken lightly; it’s a pursuit measured in years, not weeks.

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Diligence vs. Ability: Rethinking What Impresses Employers

June 26th, 2009 · 16 comments

Note: I’m leaving tomorrow for a one-week California vacation. With that in mind, I give my normal warnings about being slow to moderate comments, reply to e-mails, and post new articles until I return.

Graduation WisdomGraduation

With graduation season winding down, job hunting is on many students’ minds. Because of this, I have a habit of sharing career advice around this time. Last year, I pitched the idea of lifestyle-centric planning. This year, I want to briefly discuss a crucial distinction that can shape the character of your college experience: the difference between diligence and ability.

The Diligence Hypothesis

Over the years, I’ve advised hundreds of stressed college students. The reason for their stress is almost always the same: time famine. The student are taking more than the normal course load and often have an absurd number of extracurriculars commitments.

This leads to an interesting question: why are they doing this?

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