There’s nothing biting in here. Nothing to change the world. Just a thought.
‘Song for the Asking’ by Simon and Garfunkel is, in my opinion, one of the most perfectly crafted pieces of music ever written. There is a live version of it on a compilation called ‘Old Friends’ that is perfectly delivered. Raw, evocative and sincere. The guitar holds it together with a gently picked and strummed style that effortlessly glides along, with the occasional more abrupt phrase that bring to mind Anji -a tune by Davy Graham that contains distinctive hallmarks that pop up throughout Paul Simon’s early works. The song manages to convey willingness to change, pleading, hope and a tribute to an almost lost lover. It does this in 1 minute 48 seconds.
It does this in just 1 minute 48 seconds and still manages to contain an instrumental. It is perfect as what it is and tries to be.
I played guitar when I was younger. I played it badly and without the diligence that is needed to become really good at something. Whether I was missing passion, flair, work ethic or will it was abundantly true that I was never going to be really good at playing the guitar. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t committed to it.
I could have, with enough time and investment, managed to learn how to play Song for the Asking. That would have been possible for me. I learnt how to play I Am a Rock and Hazy Shade of Winter. I could have managed to learn Song for the Asking. I never even attempted it.
Knowing and understanding your limitations is really important in a life that you only get to do once. We are in a world that seems so focused on ‘giving 110%’ and ‘pushing the boundaries’ and ‘go hard or go home’. We hear less about respect for the things we aren’t capable of. To be happy with our gifts. To choose where to deploy your time, energy and effort.
The second line of Song for Asking is ‘Ask me and I will play so sweetly I’ll make you smile’. You need to have a wonderful voice to do that line. You need to have a voice that chimes perfectly with it. You need to have a voice that sends tingles down people’s spines. I didn’t have that and so learning that song would only ever end up with me frustrated. So I didn’t learn it. I played Dylan, The Stones, The Kinks and the Travis cover of Hit Me Baby One More Time. I can even do the Bee Gees if you get me really, really, really drunk. I never touched ‘Song for the Asking’. That’s for people who can do things that I can’t.
Understanding what you can’t do and letting go of that is a hugely important skill. I’m learning every day about the things I’m not good at. That isn’t a defeatist statement, that’s an appreciation of where I can add value, where I should spend time and who I need to work with or be with to fill in the gaps. And it’s true outside of work too. There is a skill to not listening to just praise or just the criticism, but holding them both close enough to you for long enough to better understand what you can do and who you are. There’s a relief to acknowledging that you can learn, you can improve, but you can never be all things in the way you might want to be.
To be willing to give things up. Be less to be more. To be willing to understand your strength might be understanding your weaknesses well enough to build from there.
Or as Paul Simon put it
“Thinking it over I’ve been sad, thinking it over I’d be more than glad to change my ways”