I came across a video by Kinga Glyk which then led me down a YouTube rabbit hole of bass-centric videos. Not a bad way to spend 9 miles if you ask me, but I found myself thinking “Man, I’m never gonna sound that good” somewhere after my second Marcus Miller video.

It’s one of my greatest hits. That’s what I call the thoughts or things I’ll say repeatedly, usually in some kind of self-deprecating way or as an excuse for something. Usually, I don’t give them much thought because they’ve become like the “ums” and “uhs” of my brain life – conversational filler that for the most part goes unnoticed because it happens so often.

But today, I actually started to think about it.

Here’s the thing: I actually could sound that good. Saying that I couldn’t is a complete cop out because all it takes is time, effort, and the willingness to use both of those aimed in the right direction. Boil down any “I wanna do this” sort of thing, and that’s your equation. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.

Better example. I’ve been playing saxophone since fourth grade, but at some point decided that I wasn’t a very good soloist – at least not as good as the people I was around at the time or listening to. So I shrugged and thought “I’ll never be that good” and moved on. However, that’s an excuse for me not wanting to put the time and effort into becoming better. All the raw material is there. I have over 30 years experience playing saxophone, having a working knowledge of music, all the materials are there at my fingertips thanks to the interwebs – but I always came up short on the willingness part of the equation.

Part of the trouble here is comparison. If I compare my writing to so-and-so or my musical abilities to such-and-such, of course I’m going to be disappointed. That’s them, not me. There’s age differences, natural talent, time invested, differences in experiences, etc. that are never going to match up. Thinking they will is almost as foolish as thinking that practice time won’t help me sound better.

One thing I have to remind myself is that the only person I’m truly in competition with is ME. Having those other people out there for inspiration or a kick in the arse is incredibly helpful, but our lives are so different that direct comparison is pointless.

I find myself in the process of re-learning this every few months, which is why I’m trying to shake up my greatest hits a bit today. Instead of “I’m never gonna sound that good”, the question I should be asking is “What would it take for me to sound that good?”. After all, when something or someone is exceptional, that can serve as a target.

Ultimately, the uncomfortable truth is uncovered by asking “Have I gotten better compared to where I was before?” When the answer to that question comes up as a no or not much, then it’s time to start figuring out where the equation is breaking down.

And then get to practicing.