High school, they tell you, is nothing like real life.
But high school orchestra is surprisingly relevant. I learned what talent, specialization, and expertise really means.
In no-man’s land
I was in a no-man’s land of talent in high school music. My local high school’s violin section was a joke. I could have placed in the first stand with a string missing.
But the elite, extracurricular orchestras were different. I could barely place into those. The kids were too serious, anyway.
It was a pickle. But after talking to other musicians lately, this was common.
Why the gap?
Many of the kids who crushed me in outside youth orchestras went to conservatory and are now professional musicians. The kids who I crushed in my orchestra sold their instrument.
I’m still trucking in the middle lane — playing violin in a volunteer orchestra.
Don’t forget the middle lane
Modern economics is built on the benefits of specialization. But specialization doesn’t mean what most people think it means.
People think it means becoming the best at a well-defined, specific activity. Like playing the violin: become a professional violinist or quit.
This explains why my musician classmates are all either in conservatory or dropped out.
This interpretation can’t really explain the middle lane of post-high school amateur musicians who were way better than their classmates but not quite conservatory material.
I love James Altucher’s “Ultimate Guide to Reinventing Yourself.” My favorite line is his response to the question about multiple passions:
WHAT IF I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT TWO THINGS? WHAT IF I CAN’T DECIDE? Combine them and you’ll be the best in the world at the combination.
The problem is that people tend to see specialization as specialization in one field. The thing is, it’s really hard to become the world’s best violinist. There’s a lot of competition.
But to be the expert on how music can help you be a better analyst? That’s doable. And that’s where it makes sense to be a business analyst in the second violins of the Parma Symphony.
The only one is the best one
The more you look, the more you’ll see this no-man’s land of talent emerge.
In fact, this post came to me when thinking about my Excel blog. I’m a guru at work, but go on the forums and I’m a pup. Does that mean drop out?
Nope. It means combine interests. It means become the only authority at something. Because then you’re the best.
For me, that combines not just Excel tips and tricks, but career development, business economics, and more.
I’ll wipe the dateless dances from my memory. But high school orchestra I’ll keep as a powerful statement of what specialization ought to mean.