It makes sense that Hakeem Olajuwon was great at playing basketball: he was seven feet tall, strong as a bull, and moved like a ballerina. Similarly, it makes sense that George Clooney is a movie star: he can act, he’s smart, and he very much looks the part.
I don’t mean to minimize the effort required by the Olajuwons and the Cloonies of the world to reach the heights that they’ve scaled, because these accomplishments are considerable, even for people as naturally gifted as these two. That said, I’m more interested in the people who thrive in their chosen fields despite an obvious physical deficiency. Larry Bird played forward in the NBA for a dozen years despite lacking the basic physical gifts–running and jumping–required by the position. He overcame these limitations by shooting the hell out of the ball, passing as well as anyone his size ever has, and playing smart. Muggsy Bogues had a successful NBA career. He is 5-3 and weighs 136 pounds. He made up for his small size with quickness, surprising strength, and a knack for distributing the ball to teammates. Steve Buscemi is a great actor but he hardly looks like a movie star. He made a career for himself by choosing roles wisely, by being funny, and by giving great performances.
In each of these cases, the individual found a way to surmount a real barrier by compensating in other areas. But consider this: what happens to a singer with a bad voice? What can he do to compensate?
If you’re Tom Waits you overcome a voice that sounds like Cookie Monster’s by doing two things:
- You write beautiful and haunting lyrics on such topics as regret and alcoholism.
- You sing these beautiful and haunting lyrics with real emotion.
And, maybe more important than anything else, you round up the courage to become a singer when you have a voice that sounds like it belongs to a Muppet. Then you keep doing this for 28 years or so until you become a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
Tom Waits – Innocent When You Dream (Barroom)
Tom Waits – The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)