Never Be Defeated

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A young violin prodigy was walking down the street one day trying to decide whether or not to pursue a life in music when he came upon the most famous violin teacher in the world. Scarcely believing his luck, he stopped the great teacher and asked if he could play for him, thinking he would abandon his dream of a career in music if the great teacher told him he was wasting his time.

The greater teacher nodded silently for him to begin. So he played, beads of sweat soon appearing on his forehead, and when he finished, he was certain he’d given his finest performance.

But the great maestro only shook his head sadly and said, “You lack the fire.”

The young musician was devastated.  Nevertheless, he returned home and announced his intention to abandon the violin. Instead, he entered the world of business and turned out to have such a talent for it that in a few short years he found himself richer than he’d ever imagined possible.

Almost a decade later he found himself walking down another street in another city when he happened to spot the great teacher again. He rushed over to him. “I’m so sorry to bother you,” he said, “and I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I stopped you on the street years ago to play my violin for you, and I just want to thank you. Because of your advice, I abandoned my greatest love, the violin, painful as it was, and became a businessman and today enjoy great success, which I owe all to you. But one thing you must tell me: how did you know I didn’t have what it takes? How did you know all those years ago I lacked the fire?”

The great teacher shook his head sadly and said only, “You don’t understand. I tell everyone who plays for me they lack the fire. If you had the fire, you wouldn’t have listened.”

No matter how much others may doubt you or you may doubt yourself, never be defeated!

The preceding isn’t my original work but comes from “Telling Lies for Fun and Profit” by Lawrence Block.

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  • Hello,
    This reply is not about this post, but it was the only way I found to contact you. I read your comment on the NY Times article about forward facing strollers and language development, and followed your link to this blog. I agree with you about the TV problem. As very mobile NYC parents we wear our baby in an Ergo so baby faces us, but lately the whole time, he will lean back to look at the world. So today I brought the stroller. But from one Buddhist to another, I also think that allowing kids to have moments of quiet observation is very important. So perhaps front strolling could help them develop in a different, inner conversation.

    Be Well,
    Juliette Aiyana

    Juliette: I wholeheartedly agree with the notion of giving babies some time to observe the world. My wife and I spend a lot of face time with our son but when we go out strolling face him out to the world, which he loves to watch! I think a combination is best.


  • Alex, I am responding to the comment by Juliette. I completely agree with giving babies and young children a chance to observe the world. They don’t need to have every moment filled with organized sports. What’s wrong with giving them time to lie in the grass and look at the clouds!

  • If you lie in the grass here in Florida you will be attacked by fire ants, snakes or lizards. Not a good thing!

  • I really liked the violin story; it’s one I’ll remember for a long time. Thanks!

  • Hey, thanks for the story. It’s great in that it helps one to recognize that any and all situations have the potential for a person to arise to the occasion, and surpass what they thought their limits were. It reminds me of the Bhagavad Gita in which Arjun is being challenged by Krishna to rise up out of his fear and act according to his need of the hour. Sometimes a person can only get in touch with his ultimate strength when it is required of him and he knows deep down that it is what he wants. Otherwise, he could be distracted by rationalizations and never truly meet what will bring out his inner truth, which is that at the root he is that absolute, indestructible fire!

  • Thanks for the wonderful tale of the violinist turned businessman. I used to play the violin, but had to give it up some years ago due to severe arthritis in my left shoulder. Although I missed making music, I knew it was not my greatest passion. Reading and writing are what I love and I do both on a daily basis. I was pleased to discover your blog on the NYT website. Thank you. I also agree with the idea of allowing children to have time and space to observe and appreciate the world around them. I am in my mid-sixties and came of age in a small town on the Maine coast where as a child, I was fortunate to have a great deal of free time to safely explore and observe both the natural world and the daily lives of family, friends and neighbors. Beyond school and a weekly violin lesson, my time was pretty much my own. I wonder if children today are stressed from all of the structured activities, sports and various lessons which have become the norm? As I have no grandchildren, I wonder if this is a concern? Thank you again.

    Maggie in Maine: Thanks so much for your comment. I personally do think children have the potential to be stressed from being so over-scheduled as many of them seem to be these days. My wife and I discuss this regarding our 1 year-old son all the time.


  • RE: children’s needs:

    My experience as a mom of a happy 10-year-old is that they vary, but that balance is nice, and pretty achievable, if you just pay close attention to your little darling(s).

    My son needs a lot of unstructured time in which to play with toys, make things, and sort of be actively engaged in fun of his own design, whether with friends or alone. TV and video games are the candy and potato chips of his entertainment diet, i.e. limited.

    Some children seem to thrive on structure and team sports and group activities. Sometimes, it seems to be the parents who are thriving, and the sport is just another thing the child feels he has to do.

    My experience has been that you can just kind of tell whether your child is contented and thriving overall, then adjust, kind of like moving a plant to a different window for better light.

    Childhood is a great time for trying lots of different things, and one simple rule is that if your child tries something new and doesn’t like it, (s)he at least has to finish out the season (eg sports) or give it a few months to “take” (eg piano lessons).

    The other thing that can be tricky is appreciating your child’s separateness and differences from yourself. For example when you discover that your child doesn’t like all your stuff/music/people/food/activities, and probably has passing fascinations with all kinds of things that you don’t get all.

    We expect this during adolescence, but it actually seems to start pretty early on, giving ample time to practice mutual respect and accommodation, which can be fun.

    Best wishes to new parents!