Sometimes being good just isn’t good enough. When the initial highs of success begin to fade, we almost always want more. We want to move on to even greater things. Whatever our current level, we want to reach for the next one. I think this is human nature. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t want to become at least a little bit better at something.
What does it take to go from good to great? We know that it takes a lot of dedication, and that it requires an endless thirst for learning, even when everyone else thinks you are a master with nothing left to learn. It requires having guts, and an eagerness to take on things that you’ve never tried before. It takes self-confidence, because even the top people in any field invariably experience setbacks as they try to find that next level. When they suffer one of those setbacks, they need to know deep down it’s just part of the road to greatness.
What else does it take? Do you need to network more? Do you need to work harder? Do you need to learn how to be a leader? Yes, you need to do all those things. But I think there is one more essential component, and without it, you can never be great.
That essential component is passion. You’ve got to love what you do. It’s a cliché, I know, I hear it all the time too. But what do people mean when they say it? I don’t think words alone can explain what passion is. You’ve got to see it in action. So here’s what I suggest: go watch Ayhan Sicimoğlu play. Sicimoğlu is one of the great Latin-Afro drummers. I had the pleasure of watching him last week, when I went to see an Ayhan Sicimoğlu & Friends concert at a club called Ghetto in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu neighborhood.
As I watched Sicimoğlu perform, I was struck by the warmth and sincerity in his eyes. He treated the audience as if they were part of his own family. He smiled from ear to ear, and he looked completely happy to be there. You could see he was really enjoying the music, as much as anyone else in the room. He was totally “in the moment.” His body language told the world, “This is exactly what I want to do, and this is exactly where I want to be.” His joy was contagious – it was impossible to be there and not share his passion for the rhythms.
Sicimoğlu didn’t put on the air of a jaded performer. He was so confident in his skills that it didn’t even occur to him to be anything except what he was. And sometimes he was like a curious child. He looked at Rodrigo Rodriguez, his lead singer, with wonder in his eyes, silently praising his partner’s performance and showcasing a trust that came from the heart. You could see that he was in awe of the band’s collective skills, and that the jam session was as fresh to him as if they were playing together for the very first time. Sicimoğlu, Rodriguez and Cuban guitarist Danny Labana Martinez made the audience members feel like they were watching the spontaneous discovery of new music right there before their very eyes.
That band’s greatness came from one thing: its members completely loved what they were doing. They loved the process itself.
Greatness does not mean that things come easy. I am sure Sicimoğlu and the other band members had to work very hard on the long road to their performance that night. But they probably consider those struggles well worth the trouble. They understand that you can’t have the greatness without some struggle, too.
People don’t become great just because they have natural talent. They don’t become great just because they train hard. They don’t become great just because they set the bar a little bit higher for themselves. They become great because they love what they do. They love it so much that they happily disappear into the process itself. It’s like they are simply channeling a spirit from the heavens. When you combine talent and hard work with that kind of passion, then you too can become great.