Paul McCartney’s guitar string broke. He couldn’t play it anymore.
The Beatles were just starting, nobody knew them, and they were playing eight hours a day in strip clubs in Hamburg just to pay the bills.
He had no other guitar. There was a piano on the stage but he had never before played the piano. Never.
If he said, “I can’t do this” then the show would be over. They would be finished.
So he went over to the piano and played. And it worked.
Years later he played the piano on “Hey, Jude”, “Let It Be”, and my favorite, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, among others. Maybe the best songs in history.
There’s always two ways to relieve stress: “I can’t do it”…and doing it.
A) “I can’t do it”. If you tell yourself you can’t do something, then you’re free. You don’t have to do it anymore.
B ) Doing it.
Paul McCartney did it. He probably wasn’t very good the first time. He was probably bad. Maybe awful. I know I am awful at everything I start. Everything!
But the night continued. He survived. The band got paid. And they played the next day and the next and the next and became the Beatles.
And maybe I’m just saying how I would feel, but he was probably scared.
He was broke, he was young, John Lennon and George Harrison were depending on him so they could all get paid.
His guitar wept.
The first three businesses I started were failures.
One was a debit card business for college students. We had 700 customers who deposited money with us. We had 80 merchants who were accepting our card.
So we were in business. We charged $21 a semester fee to parents and a 3% transaction fee. We started looking at other colleges to expand the business to. We would go nationwide!
The second business was a delivery service. It was in the same college town. We delivered from eight different restaurants ranging from pizza to Indian food to gyros.
Both businesses failed.
The third was an online gaming company. It succeeded but by the time it succeeded I was long gone from it. I couldn’t handle the stress.
I told myself, “I can’t do it” when it got too hard for me.
I also told myself, “I’m not cut out to be an entrepreneur. Some people can handle it. I can’t.”
I told myself that over and over. It became a part of me. Whatever you truly believe about yourself becomes who you are. This isn’t about affirmations.
If I tell myself over and over again I’m ugly and unlovable then I will never take the chance to love. I’ll be too scared.
The longest relationship I will ever have is with myself. If I can’t love myself, how will others?
And I really wasn’t cut out to be an entrepreneur. I hated it.
And I wasn’t good at it at all. I had some talent at sales. But there’s about 100 micro-skills in business and to succeed in business you have to be pretty good at all of them.
I didn’t know I needed to learn all of these micro-skills. I didn’t even know they existed. I thought I just needed a good product to sell and then I could sell it. Wrong!
So I gave up.
But I started to get better at the micro-skills of business. 20 years later I’m now good at them. Or at least pretty good at them. Let’s just say, “Good enough”. Or…”Vaguely competent”.
Paul McCartney didn’t have time to take lessons. He was on stage and his guitar string BROKE.
He didn’t have time to read a book. Or listen to the greats. He had to get up, sit down at the piano, and start playing.
He probably leaned on the one or two micro-skills he was an expert on.
Like how chords on the guitar translated to chords on the piano. How to improvise. What chords worked with which songs, etc.
And then he played. And then got better. Little by little. He DID IT instead of saying, “I can’t do it”.
Little by little. You can only start from zero. And then when it adds up…you’re good.
“Little by little” is either a positive affirmation or a punchline to an already very bad standup comedy joke.
Without it, though, we wouldn’t have the beautiful piano intro to my favorite song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.
Meanwhile, little by little I’m trying to get better at standup comedy.
And when sometimes there is absolute dead silence on a joke I was sure would work, I just have to go forward and tell the next joke.
[This post by James Altucher first appeared on LinkedIn and has been reproduced with permission.]