The power of passion, persistence & performance

This is the story of a boy and his piano. But more than that, it’s about how to live life well.

Matthias is a whirlwind. The youngest of my four kids, we call him the Exclamation Point of the family, because everything he says and does pretty much ends in exclamation points.

At 10 years of age, he’s already taught me a lot about how to do life to the fullest. He brings together several things that are fine separately, but which are far more powerful when combined.

Matthias has been playing the piano for just over a year and a half, but he plays like he’s been playing for at least five years. At a recent speaking engagement of mine, there was a break and people were sitting around waiting for what was next. Matthias found the piano in the room and plunged into his repertoire of songs. When he finished, the room erupted into applause. Following the ovation, I was asked how long he’d been playing and got shocked looks when I mentioned how recently he’d begun.

The first thing he brings to the piano is passion. He simply can’t get enough of it.

When we go on camping trips, he gets fidgety because there is no piano around to play on. Even though he has a small allowance, he’s willing to spend his money on sheet music for songs he wants to learn. And not only does he learn the songs his teacher assigns to him, he’s always working on mastering other complex pieces that capture his imagination.

Every day, he sits down to practice at least a dozen times — none of which are prompted by my wife or me. In fact, we do just the opposite of asking him to practice, we have set up parameters to keep him from practicing when he shouldn’t be, including piano curfews both morning and night to keep him from interrupting the family’s sleep.

He simply can’t get enough of it.

That passion is combined with persistence.

Matthias doesn’t take No for an answer. Ever.

His three older siblings are annoyed by it, because there have been plenty of times when I’ve told him, “No,” about something only to say, “Yes,” later on. This isn’t because I’m wishy-washy, but because after saying, “No,” 20 times, I begin to wonder why I had refused him in the first place. And often, I realize that there was no good reason to refuse him, so I’ll reverse myself.

That persistence is woven into everything he does and finds its way into his piano-playing.

Last week, he was working on a complex piece and struggling with his right hand fingering. He has big hands for a 10-year-old, but the four-note chords stretched beyond what he was able to do, while moving back and forth across the piano and changing rapidly. He wanted to quit in frustration, because it was simply physically impossible for him to play it.

The next day, he was playing that part without a mistake. Hours of repetition had stretched both his hand and his ability. What had been seemingly impossible was now a part of his routine. He had pushed through with unquenchable persistence.

Passion without persistence peters out. And not many persist long enough to master something without passion. But to be heard requires a third element: performance.

Matthias loves to play, simply because he loves the piano. But he also loves to play for other people. In fact, there is no audience too small or too large that he doesn’t love to play for.

I mentioned his sneaking onto the piano bench during a break a few weeks ago. But he’ll play for a neighbor who drops by to ask a question, for friends who come over to play, for anyone we visit who has a keyboard of any sort, for anyone. Give him an opportunity to perform and he’ll take it.

He’s quite the opposite from me in this. I balk at self-promotion. Even though I love to affirmed, I don’t set myself up to receive it. My son has no problem doing so.

Sharing with others what we’re passionate about is essential to success. If we do it without passion or skill, we show ourselves to be pretenders. But if we bring all of our passion and persistence to bear upon our performance, we have something truly wonderful to offer to the world.

May we all find that place where our passion and persistence are brought together in the kinds of performance this world needs.