When we hear the name ‘Michael Jackson’, we think of his limitless talent for dance and music, which have enthralled his millions of fans around the world for decades. When we try to decipher the phenomenon, we look at things like the fact that he was born into a musical family, which helped him to a fast start in the music industry. We look at the fact that he was the lead singer in the Jackson 5, his family music group, at the age of 5. All we look at is his talent. We look at the magical things he does on stage and think “That man must be so lucky. He had a musical background and he had so much talent. He is one in a million.”
However, the truth of the matter is quite different. Michael Jackson clearly possessed an almost otherworldly talent. However, what most people forget to mention is that the man was a maniacal worker. Even Kobe Bryant, the 5 time NBA champion, who was renowned for his legendary work ethic said about Jackson, “I thought I was working hard until I met him.” Jackson would spend hours perfecting his live shows and recording in the studio. We all look at his talent and think, “That man is one in a million.” Rather, we should look at this man’s work ethic and think, “No wonder he was a superstar. He worked so hard that he deserved every bit of his success. Perhaps I can dedicate myself to my field in the same way and become great too.”
Michael Jackson was a true student of his craft who would spend almost all of his waking moments dedicated to musical greatness. He was always trying to learn something new that could make him a better entertainer. He would spend hours watching Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, two other all-time great entertainers, and study their dance moves. He would listen to the Beatles for hours, trying to find the emotional connection that he had with each note. Even when he was tremendously successful, he made it no secret that he reached the heights he did because of his immense desire to learn from them. As Jackson said himself, “The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.”
This unrelenting work ethic and desire for mastery was motivated by a deep love of music, a love as deep as love can get. Most people are scared when they think of going on a stage. However, when you see Michael Jackson, you get the sense that he is at home on stage, which would be a scary position for many people. Michael Jackson dearly loved music as evidenced when he said, “I’m married to my music, and there has to be that closeness in order to do the kind of work that I want to do.” Music was this man’s life. It was like oxygen for him and was with him every second of his life.
Because of this great love, he was a perfectionist. He was never satisfied with anything, no matter how perfect it seemed. He always believed that there was a better way to do things. He himself said, “I’m never pleased with anything. I am a perfectionist. It’s part of who I am.” Jackson loved music so much that there was no expense he would spare in order to ensure that the best possible music was played. In this perfectionism, we find Michael Jackson’s greatest lesson to us on the science of success.
Perfectionism is a necessary part of achieving unparalleled success and happiness. Many people are discouraged from being perfectionists. They are told that being obsessed with finding the perfect product is a path destined for disaster. We are told to make compromises with our work and to not let ourselves be consumed by it. It is said that perfectionism causes depression and will cause life to lose it’s luster, because if you demand perfection, then you will be constantly disappointed, because nothing can be perfect.
I beg to differ. Being a perfectionist is the only way to bring luster into your life. Of course nothing can be perfect, but a no-holds barred pursuit of perfection, which was Michael Jackson’s defining characteristic, is the greatest joy in life. In order to do work worth remembering, you have to be fully involved in the process. You cannot feel afraid of being possessed by your work and do your work halfhearted. That is simply a very lukewarm way to live. You have not immersed yourself in your love and let yourself become consumed by the desire for perfection.
Most people are afraid of the risk of becoming a perfectionist and being possessed by your work. The risk is that you fail, and, because you are so immersed in your work, you feel far more pain. While it is true that immersing yourself in your work will lead you to immense pain when things do not work out, your love for your work has to be strong enough to go through all that if you want to achieve greatness. When you are in love with your work, you expose yourself to the greatest of joy and the lowest of sorrows. Both sides of the coin happen when you take that decision to dedicate yourself to creating the best work possible. There is no way to separate the sadness from the happiness. If you try to limit your involvement to limit your sadness, you will also limit your joy.
The reason why so few people achieve greatness is not because only a few people have talent, or only a few people work hard. A lot of people have great talent and a lot of people work hard. The difference with the real greats is that they immerse themselves in their work. They are willing to go through the pain that is inevitable with true immersion, so that they can taste the joy of success and bringing something beautiful to the world. This is a choice we must all make as individuals.
Are you willing to become consumed by your work, never being satisfied with it, no matter how perfect it seems? Are you willing to take all the pain that comes with immersing yourself in your work, so that you can experience the highest peak of happiness? Do you want to do all the extra hours of work that are required to make your name synonymous with greatness? There are inherent sacrifices that come with these choices, but the rewards are so much greater. The question is whether your love for your work is strong enough, so that you can go through the pain, and become what you were destined to be, synonymous with greatness.