If we further explore the artists’ approach, we find other attributes that serve in the quest for longevity. One of these, without a doubt, is commitment. Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Rhodes, in his book How To Write, advises would-be authors that the most important thing – more important even, perhaps, than inspiration or creativity – is simply getting to the page each and every day. Discipline. Focus. “A page a day is a book a year,” writes Rhodes. “It doesn’t matter what you write as long as you do it regularly.” Or, as Rhodes’ own mentor once put it, “Apply ass to chair.”
Before award-winning R&B musician John Legend was John Legend, he was John Stephens, a recent U Penn grad working at a demanding management consulting job. Most people, even those as supremely talented as he is, would have found the schedule he kept simply too daunting. He would regularly drive several hours from New York to Philadelphia to play a 10pm gig after a full work-day, only to be back in his New York office for meetings the following morning at 9am. Even for those without such a high-powered day job, the task of getting a recording career off the ground requires deep reserves of focus and commitment. To persevere, through long years of long days and thin hopes – that is what separates a dilettante from a professional.
One of our Harvard Business School professors once offered: I am going to give you a piece of advice, and if you follow it I can guarantee you will be successful. (Backs straightened and ears perked in the room.) Pick something, he said, anything, and do it for the next 20 years.
It wasn’t exactly what we wanted to hear at the time. But it was probably the best piece of professional – and personal – advice anyone could give.