I had a music teacher growing up that used to say “Repetition is the key to success.”
He’d wait five seconds then say, “Repetition is the key to success” and keep repeating it until we caught on.
I love jokes like that, where you have to pay attention to the clever (albeit silly) word play to understand. As a result, I’ve never forgotten it.
I’m not sure that it’s the only “key to success” but I think repetition is an important component. I think he was mostly trying to remind us to practice our instruments when we weren’t in class but I still never did. That explains why I’m reading minds for a living now and not playing tenor sax...
When you perform for a living it can start to feel a little pointless. The days start to blur together because of the repetitive nature of life on the road. Usually it goes something like this:
Wake up early (I have alarms for 3:30 am and 3:45 am that I use every week) to head to the airport. I take the same bags, packed the same way, through security on my way to the first flight out. Then comes sleep, baggage claim, rental car, coffee, hotel, venue, set up, soundcheck, show. Then I re-pack everything in the same way and head back to my room for a few hours of sleep before I get up the next morning to do it all over again.
I will follow those steps today and tomorrow and the next day indefinitely for as long as I continue the current trajectory of my career. I keep setting my alarm and boarding the planes. I keep testing my microphone and saying the same words onstage every night. I keep hoping that putting in 10,000 hours will lead to mastery and mastery will lead to nothing but beautiful, theatrically resonant performances.
Over time you start to enjoy the repetition. An early flight means fewer delays and more time once you arrive. A good sound check puts my mind at ease and usually means I’ll have a good show. And packing my stuff the same way each time means I never leave anything behind.
Repetition provides the framework to the rest of the day so I can be in the moment onstage. Since everything else is the same during the day, I can set my mind to autopilot. I’ve been through airport security so many times now, that I could probably do it completely blindfolded. (Maybe I will for a future show…)
Once I take the stage, I’m in search of new discoveries in hopes of truly connecting with tonight’s group. Maybe something exciting will happen. Maybe I’ll have a creative breakthrough or reach a new level of proficiency. Maybe tonight will be my best show ever. Maybe I’ll be even better tomorrow.
That’s why I keep doing the same thing day after day, show after show. Rise early, read minds, rinse, repeat. Repetition is (one of) the keys to success.
There’s that old adage that says “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" is the definition of insanity...but I prefer to call it a “career in the arts”.