*Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be a racist tirade, but simply a cultural observation I've recently made which has allowed me to come to terms with some failures of the past. Don't hate.
Every spring and every fall, I'd cram-practice for a week, playing the piano for an hour a day rather than an hour a week in preparation for Ms. Dorothy Weiss's seasonal recital. Two hours before show time, my little sister and I would dress in our Sunday best, hoping to impress all the well-to-do parents with our class, if not our classical piano. I'd bring the sheet music in the car, trying to commit each grace note to graphic memory, to nail each bar deeply in my brain.
And then we'd walk into the concert hall, late of course.
Scene: rows of piano students younger than I, all seated politely, with legs crossed at the ankle. Pretty skirts and perfectly-polished shoes, glasses, and of course, smug smiles. Beautiful little Asian girls and boys who were perfect, and perfectly better than I at anything I could do on that grand instrument. No matter their age or difficulty, they'd walk properly onstage, play their little hearts out without missing a trill, or an accent, or a crescendo. Perfect posture, perfect and proper. At the end, they'd turn and face the audience, bowing with a prideful, yet unconceited grin.
Then I, a foot taller and five shoe sizes bigger than most, would stumble onstage in a daze, sit down, and think of all ways could go wrong. And many of them, I did―my lithe fingers tangled, my crescendos started loud and ended soft, and many of my last notes were resemblent of that Arthur episode where he fails on the last note of Fur Elise (don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about). I'd bow, embarassed, thinking how I should, instead, be bowing down to all the future Yannis and Yokos in the room. I was green-eyed and confused about why the Asians were just so damn perfect, and wondered what in the miso soup was making them so much better than I.
Well, I spent yesterday at the U of T Robarts library. Unfortunately, I also spent most of the night. Throughout the day, everyone of every race seemed to be there, navigating the stacks in a less confused fashion than myself. But when I finally got on that elevator at 9:55 p.m., I stepped into a box that may have fit better on a different continent... and that's when it all made sense.
Just like The Outliers said, success doesn't happen by chance. It happens with a specific set of circumstances, a certain environment, a combination of drive and work ethic. And that's exactly what I was surrounded by in that elevator last night―people who'd been raised to understand the long hours proper study requires, and those dilligent enough to stick it out, because it's engrained in their culture. No wonder everyone thinks of the west as fat, lazy Americans―by comparison, we are.
So maybe it's time I took a lesson from overseas experts and came to expect that good marks only come from long, hard hours. And that magical pianist's touch comes from days and days of hours and hours of gruelling practice. After all, the rigorous work always means a better reward.