Don't Quit, Do It - Some Thoughts

October 10, 2019

“I Can’t”. There are probably no words in the English language that I despise more; and yet I hear these words far too frequently, several times a week at a minimum. Inevitably this statement is followed by me telling a student “Try again, you can do it”. Many things in life are difficult and learning a musical instrument, let alone excelling, is no exception. Back to music in a moment, our social media person created the Don’t Quit – Do It image about a month ago and it performed poorly with our followers, that is to say, no one really stopped to look at it (and we can see this thanks to the power of Facebook). And it interestingly became an example of what it was trying to convey. This motivational post didn’t even get viewed by half of our followers and yet is arguably one of the best-composed images we have ever posted. In contrast, this simple text image reached twice as many people and 10x as many people interacted with it by clicking on it, liking, or sharing.

This got me curious so I went back and checked the statistics on all of the motivational posts we’ve done around the idea of you can do it, don’t quit, etc. and on average they all performed worse than their other motivational counterparts. So what is the difference? Well, typically the text is longer on the other posts. However, I think the real answer is how they make people feel. They are both intended to raise people’s spirits and give you the nudge you need to keep pushing forward. I think the statement “Don’t Quit, Do It” reminds us that we are making a choice between quitting or doing and that can be uncomfortable.

Now before I bring this back around to music lessons, yes I understand that there are things that simply aren’t possible and quitting can be the correct choice. The longer I teach the more I find that the words “I can’t” and “This is hard” mean the same thing and that my students are looking for permission to take the easy path; something that doesn’t happen in my studio. We live in an instant gratification culture, and I like all of my peers am captive in that as well. Most skills, if not all, cannot be “mastered” quickly and take commitment to repeated practice to hone them. Pushing the boundaries of what your current skill level is capable of will result in perpetual failure until the magic moment when it doesn’t. Inevitably when a student is ready to give up they are only a few repetitions away from starting to breakthrough. It is okay to quit because something is hard, but be honest and say that it is hard and that you are not willing to put in the effort instead of “I can’t”. When I think about failure the famous Thomas Edison quote always comes to mind.

“I haven’t failed — I’ve just found 10,000 that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison