Irving Berlin, the creator of many American standards, including “White Christmas,” enjoyed an enormously successful songwriting career that spanned decades. When he and George Gerswhin first met, Irving was already wildly famous and George was a struggling composer scraping by on $35 a week.
Instantly recognizing George’s amazing musical talent, Berlin offered the ambitious aspiring young musician a job as his musical secretary at a salary that was roughly three times what he was making writing songs.
What a temptation!
Surprisingly – and thankfully – Irving offered the cash with one hand and some priceless advice with the other. He admonished his new young friend not to accept the proposition he’d made. “If you do,” he warned, “you may develop into a second-rate Berlin. But if you insist on being yourself, someday you will become a first-rate Gerswhin.”
Luckily, Gerswhin accepted Irving’s wise and prophetic counsel. He passed on the lucrative job offer, remained Gershwin, and went on write music that America and all the world adores.
“Insist on being yourself” – what better advice could a successful songwriter have given a young, aspiring musician?
“Insist on being yourself” – what better advice is there out there for us as creatives?
So often, we are tempted, as George surely was, to compromise ourselves – to give up becoming first-rate – and to settle for being less than we might be. Sometimes life itself carries us away from the quest to become our best selves and do our best work. Sometimes, we’re afraid of all the struggle that’s involved in finding out who we really are and what we’re meant to do.
But here’s something to remember: At any moment, we have the power to choose to be our best and to do our best. Right now, today, we can make this choice. And when we do, all the other choices we’ve made simply fall away. They don’t matter.
So why not take Irving’s advice? Why not insist on being ourselves – on becoming first-rate? Write on!