In a bout of nostalgia, I was poking around YouTube for music from the early 2000’s. (Gosh, early 2000’s rates on the nostalgia scale these days? I feel old. *) A string of hits, including this catchy tune from David Bisbal, populated the results. Take a peek.
Come on. Admit it. You think it’s catchy too.
But I digress. David Bisbal’s got a really nice voice and (perhaps overly) enthusiastic expressive arm gestures. He obviously loves to perform. He does it well. He’s a natural.
Or is he?
Check out this early audition for Operación Triunfo, a Spanish singing contest that launched him to fame.
Sheesh, look how nervous he is. He’s sweating like a pig. He’s not performing; he’s just trying to get out of there alive. Compare that audition to those we see on TV these days. He probably wouldn’t make it to the next round with a performance like that.
If all you saw of David Bisbal’s abilities was that one audition, you would likely say he had some vocal talent, but he certainly didn’t have that “it” factor that music industry experts are so confident they can pick out of a crowd.
To be fair, TV singing contests have become so common, people’s expectations have gone up. That is natural. Once the 4-minute mile was thought to be a great feat. Now lots of people manage to beat it. (Not me, but you know, others.)
My point, though, isn’t that we’ve raised the bar. Although we have.
My point is that we too easily write people off because we assume that their initial performance accurately predicts how much they can improve. We see this in school admissions, jobs, contests — everywhere, really.
But let’s face it. It would be a hard uphill battle to convince those with the power to decide that they shouldn’t judge too quickly. Bosses rarely listen to good sense. College admission officers are too busy combing through thousands of applications to have time to reevaluate their standards. And contests have to put people on who will draw in an audience.
So actually, my real point isn’t even that others write us off too soon. It’s that we write ourselves off too soon.
We stare cross-eyed at our own awkward performances (the failed math grade, the crappy essay, the science project that looks like it has been duct-taped together by minions), and we judge our future potential as severely limited.
But that big, fat F? It’s like David Bisbal’s nervous, awkward audition from the video above.
David Bisbal’s later rounds from Operación Triunfo are markedly improved. He got over those initial nerves. He stopped mimicking Luis Miguel (an already famous singer at the time) and started being David Bisbal instead. He reached deep within his soul and pulled out some overdone dance moves.
Which, by the way, have served him well. It’s been 15 years or so (15 years!), and he is still cranking out hit records and hip gyrations.
But had the Operación Triunfo judges eliminated David Bisbal after his first try, the music industry would have lost a very big hit maker.
Or maybe not. Because Bisbal’s fate didn’t ultimately hinge on the initial impressions of some Operación Triunfo judges. It hinged on whether he wrote himself off after one less-than-stellar audition. Let’s say he had failed and decided that he didn’t really have it in him; he would never have made it. But what if he had been booted out? If he had kept on keeping on, knowing he could get better, he could still have made it big.
And that is really the lesson for us. We can’t control the faith other people have in our ability to improve. And let’s be fair. Judges, admissions officers, and bosses all have to eliminate some prospects, whether they believe those prospects can improve or not. But no matter what others do or say, don’t write yourself off. Any skill can be learned. Some skills may take longer, but they can all be learned.
And David Bisbal’s Ave María video you saw above? That was just his first release after Operación Triunfo. His hips — I mean, he — had certainly come a long way in a very short amount of time.
So here is your task. Think of one failure that made you conclude you just didn’t have the chops. Now write three actions you will take to improve. If you can pick a skill that is important to you, all the better. But if is easier to choose one that isn’t so important, start there.
But whatever you do, don’t take yourself out of the game.
* Footnote: Don’t you dare agree that I am old, or I will find you and punch you in the face.