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One of the more challenging quotes I ever ran across is “You are not defeated when you lose. You are defeated when you quit.” (Paolo Coelho) That always struck me as a painful truth: that defeat would be something I would choose rather than something that happens to me. But I have a better reason to stick with something than avoidance of defeat.
It doesn’t matter how good you are at something when you arrive, what matters is how good you are when you leave. There’s good reason to stick it out, no matter how bad you are at it. When I choose to quit will determine how I am seen by others and, perhaps, how I see myself.
In piano playing in particular, I have been lousy at my job many times. I started as a lousy ballet accompanist before I ended up learning how to do it and writing a book on the subject. I broke onto the scene as a lousy jazz pianist and have survived 30 years to enjoy a reputation as a reliable player and teacher.
As a classical pianist, I suffered from severe stage fright. I endured many crises of confidence to reach the place where I could bring myself to audition to get a music degree as an adult. One of the most gratifying lessons I learned from that experience was that I didn’t have to be good, just good enough.
Had I quit at arrival, upon discovering I was terrible, that is how I would be remembered. Instead I find that few people remember how bad I was at any of those things. Their best memory of me is their last one.
What about first impressions? Well, people have funny memories. My senior year in high school I was the only person in my grade who didn’t go on the Florida Spring Break trip, and yet to this day some of my classmates actually remember me being there because I never corrected their mistake.
So if you are learning and growing, if you’re not a pain in the butt or have an attitude, if you’re trying to do the job you’re asked to do, that will be your real first impression, and your actually ability will be secondary. Then, as you grow, people will tend to misremember and think you were always that good, because most of us are too self-absorbed to pay that close attention! First impressions will be trumped by final impressions.
So: Don’t quit because you don’t want to be defeated? Nah. How about, don’t quit because if you do, that’s who you’ll stay.