Beethoven Was Not A Genius — 3 Lessons He Teaches Us About Success
Genius. I’ve always shuttered when I’ve heard people utter this word. This word is so easily attributed to those who are exceptionally skilled at something. We listen to the music of a great musician and we express in great awe, “This person is a genius.”
Mozart, Beethoven, Albert Einstein. These are the people that mankind refer to as geniuses.
I hate it.
Do you know why I hate it? Because there are no such things as inborn geniuses. And believing that these geniuses exist is a counterproductive lie. It’s an untruth that makes it difficult for people to strive for greatness.
If you have to be born a genius to write a great symphony, or prove a mathematical theory, then why am I, a normal person going to strive for this.
I’ve seen so many with great potential, not move forward because they don’t feel they have what it takes to be successful. They feel that in order to be great at something, you have to have an affinity for it from birth.
And why do people believe this? Because everyone attributes “genius” to the memorable legends of the world.
But guess what? It’s not genius that made people like Mozart, Beethoven, and Albert Einstein legends. It was something else. It was something that we can all strive for. And you know what that is? Determination.
Be determined to succeed
A few months ago I read an autobiography written by George Alexander Fisher entitled, “Beethoven, a character study”. Now I’ve always felt that we attribute genius to people too easily. But this book validated many of my opinions.
In the book, you learn that Beethoven was not some special being. He wasn’t blessed with profound musical skills from birth. He struggled to attain the mastery he eventually possessed.
And he struggled hard. It was not easy for him. He had to work very, very hard. And much of his initial hard work did not pay off.
“From year to year he kept on in musical composition, feeling his way, not discouraged by his inability to produce anything great” — Beethoven, a character study
This is Beethoven we’re talking about here. Year after year he kept working, and he wasn’t producing anything great. Where is the genius? Where is this inborn greatness?
Not only was there no genius, but he had to face apathy from those closest to him.
“It is characteristic of Beethoven that his teachers in general were not greatly impressed by him.” — Beethoven, a character study
One of his teachers even went so far as to make this remark about Beethoven.
“He has learned nothing; he never will learn anything.” — Beethoven, a character study
Clearly, Beethoven was not always great at what he did. But Beethoven eventually became one of the greatest composers to ever walk the face of this earth. He went from a musician whom teachers did not appreciate, to a legend that teachers base lessons off of.
Why? How did Beethoven achieve this?
He worked diligently to improve his skill!
Beethoven had to do what everyone else did. Work hard towards a goal. He had to work hard towards becoming skilled. He didn’t look at the composers of his day and think to himself, “If only I was a genius like them.” No, he worked his butt off each and every day. And it led to real results.
There is no substitute for hard work
“Thou, O God! who sellest us all good things at the price of labor. — Leonardo da Vinci
You can’t avoid hard work. Don’t even try it.
There’s no secret formula to success.
There are tons of articles out there about how to be successful in a short amount of time. Get rich quick schemes are everywhere. Even on Medium, there are tons of articles like ‘How I made $1000 my first month on Medium.’
Look, if you want to be successful, you have to be prolific. You have to work hard. There’s no way around it.
The time that you spend trying to learn the secret is much better spent working. Now, I’m not saying don’t learn anything. You obviously need to spend some time gaining knowledge about how to move forward. But at the end of the day, it’s the work that you put in day by day that’s going to lead to your success.
Beethoven’s concern was becoming skilled. That’s what your goal needs to be.
It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to become skilled at something. We live in a world of instant gratification. People can learn a skill in 3 months now and get a good-paying job.
But after those 3 months, those people aren’t that skilled. They just know enough to get started.
Keep your eye on your goal
To become skilled takes much more work and more time. You have to be determined. Then work at it every day.
Look at Beethoven. It took him years before he attained the success that he desired. But he didn’t give up. He wasn’t discouraged by his “inability to produce something great”. He kept working. Knowing that eventually, he would reach the goal he had set.
If you’re not determined to reach your goal, you won’t succeed. Period. You have to keep going even when you’re not getting the results that you expected.
This can be especially difficult in today’s world.
With social media today, things go viral all the time. This has built a certain expectation within us. When we produce anything, we hope that it will go viral. Sadly, it rarely does.
That’s why you should not be determined to go viral. You should be determined to get more skilled and to keep improving.
Hard work always pays off eventually. But you may never ever have anything go viral.
There are many successful companies, writers, bloggers, and musicians who have never had anything of theirs go viral. And yet they're successful nonetheless.
Going viral of course would be great, but going viral is not up to you. Some things go viral, and some things don’t. No one really knows why something goes viral or not.
What is up to you, is how hard are you going to work? How much effort are you going to put forth to attaining your goals?
And this is why determination is so important. If you’re not determined, then you’ll give up.
Nothing drains your determination like false hopes and false expectations. So don’t build your expectations around something that you have no control over. If you do that, you’re just asking to get discouraged. Instead, be like Beethoven who was “not discouraged by his inability to produce something great” and just kept on working towards his goals.
After I read the book about Beethoven’s life, my attitude towards work changed. Beethoven was not a ‘genius’. Most people that mankind consider geniuses weren’t.
There are people who work very hard, and then there are people who don’t.
It’s enjoyable to look at someone successful and say, “There’s something special about him that I don’t have, and that’s why I don’t have what he has.” And that’s not entirely untrue. Circumstances and timing play large factors. But, it’s not because of some mysterious inborn “genius.” I know it feels good to tell ourselves it is because they’re “geniuses”, but it’s not true.
Once I realized that Beethoven wasn’t a genius, I started looking into the histories of other so-called “geniuses” and I realized that many of them had similar stories. They worked crazy hard until they attained mastery of a skill.
Knowing this has made me more confident in everything that I do. I can attain any level of mastery I desire and so can you.
Do you want to be a great composer? Do it. Do you want to be an amazing writer? Do it. Do you want to be a great mathematician? Do it.
There’s nothing stopping you from mastering anything. Just put in the work and eventually, you’ll see the results.
Don’t attribute hard work and perseverance to genius. Those who continue to work hard succeed.
This realization should motivate you to work as hard as you can towards your goals. You don’t need a special trait, you just need hard work and determination.
Don’t be discouraged because you’re not as successful as you hoped to be right now. Just keep working as Beethoven did. Remember, the hard work is going to pay off eventually, you need to trust that.
There is no secret to being successful. Hard work and determination are not secrets.
So keep your goals fixed firmly in mind, and work as hard as you can towards those goals every single day. One day you’ll reach them. Not because you’re a genius, but because you put in the necessary work.
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