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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

The Maestro’s Advice and Why You Should Ignore it

violin canstockphoto5004236 (2)When a violin virtuoso on tour came to his city, a young musician named Tom talked his way into an opportunity to play for the Maestro. When Tom finished, the Maestro said “You lack passion.”

Years later when the Maestro came back, Tom, now a successful executive, arranged for a few friends to enjoy the concert from the very best seats and to meet the Maestro backstage after the performance.

Tom thanked the Maestro and said “You probably don’t remember, but I played for you once.”

“I said you lacked passion.”

“That’s right! How did you remember?”

The Maestro waved his hand and said “That’s what I tell all the young musicians.”

“But I changed my life based on your advice! I gave up on going to Juilliard and went to business school instead. I could have gone on with my music! I could be where you are now!”

“As I said, you lacked passion,” the Maestro said calmly. “If you had had passion, what I said wouldn’t have mattered. You would have pursued your music regardless of what I said.”

The moral of the story is that you should follow your passion no matter what anyone tells you.

I hate this story! It’s always bothered me and after doing the research for my book, I know why: It’s simply not true.

The reason most people don’t follow their dreams is not because they lack passion – or will power, discipline or talent – it’s because they don’t know how to manage fear.

Got Passion? Or Fear?

Passion and fear arise from the same part of the brain – the limbic system. As I explain in Around the Writer’s Block, if there is enough fear, the limbic system initiates the fight-or-flight response. When the limbic system takes over, the cortex is pushed out of the driver’s seat and all our creative thinking, problem-solving and commitment are temporarily lost.

It’s not that we stop wanting to play music or write, it’s that that passion is lost in the face of fear.

We don’t need to be told we lack passion; we need to learn how to respond to our fear. Reassurance, especially from those with more experience, is the first step in managing fear.

Next time: the other reason I hate the Maestro’s response and why you should too.

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6 Comments on “The Maestro’s Advice and Why You Should Ignore it”

  1. Joel D Canfield May 14, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    I have long abhorred the “beatings will continue until morale improves” concept of ‘coaching.’

    Fear needs no allies, but many enemies.


  2. Paige McKinney May 13, 2013 at 7:53 am #

    I’ve read that story before and the same angry feelings rose up again. Who does the Maestro think he is, an agent of artistic Darwinism?


    • rosannebane May 13, 2013 at 9:25 am #

      Paige: “Agent of artistic darwinism” is a nice turn of phrase. Stay tuned for the next post – I think you’re going to like it!



  1. Are You Sure It’s Feedback You Want? | The Bane of Your Resistance - August 6, 2013

    […] Next post: The Maestro’s Advice and why you shouldn’t believe it for a minute. […]


  2. The Maestro’s Artistic Darwinism or What’s Passion Got to Do with It? | The Bane of Your Resistance - May 16, 2013

    […] the Maestro told the young musician “You lack passion” (see previous post), he was acting as, Paige McKinney pointed out in her comment on that post, an arrogant, […]


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