Every Song Has a Perfect Tempo

A few years ago, I wrote a post that had 3 simple pieces of advice for living. The trouble is, the advice was given as short, pithy, metaphorical phrases and I purposely didn't bother to explain them. They were open to interpretation and I thought it might be interesting to leave them that way. But now I think it's a good time to explain what I mean.

First, I should say, I'm no particular expert on living well and one could well argue that I have no business giving advice to others on the topic. But I have found these 3 things proven true over and over in my life and therefore have been useful to me. Maybe they'll be useful to you.

So I'll start with the first.

Every song has a perfect tempo.

I used to play in a band with a guy who said this all the time. He was a very interesting guy. A completely self-made dot-com millionaire. His dot-com wasn't some harebrained no-path-to-profitability play. It was the one of the first web content management systems – a technology that is considered essential for large web sites today. He was wicked smart (MIT engineering grad) and also happened to be a decent, kind, and approachable person. As near as I could tell, he did three things with his considerable wealth: 1) play poker, 2) play music, and 3) give away money through his charitable foundation. For a guy of his means, he lived in a relatively modest home, drove a Ford Explorer, and with a couple of notable exceptions wasn't prone to ostentatious display of money. His poker playing was much higher stakes than I could afford, but it didn't even register a dent in his wealth. He had a nice setup for music at his home, but considering he could afford a Prince-like studio, it was pretty low-key. And his foundation gave money to education-oriented projects and charities. Like I said, really nice guy. And a pretty darn good keyboard player.

Anyway, this guy used to always say, "Every song has a perfect tempo." He believed that every song had an ideal tempo such that any slower or faster than the perfect tempo would have a detrimental effect on the song. And he was adamant about finding the perfect tempo for each song and nailing it every time we played the song.

Now, he was only talking about music. But that phrase stuck with me and I've found it to be widely applicable to life. For everything in which you control the amount, there is almost always a perfect amount.

There's a perfect amount of salt you can put on a steak. Too little and it's bland; too much and it's, well, salty. There's the perfect amount of contrast for a photo. There's a perfect allocation of funds for your 401K. There's a perfect placement for your car in the garage. There's a perfect amount of stuff to put in your backpack. There a perfect balance of rod to reel. There's a perfect amount of overdrive from any given amp. There's a perfect balance of boss, mentor, and friend for your manager.

You might say, "Well, the perfect amount is highly subjective!" And you'd be right. It varies from person-to-person and is almost always situational. But within all of us, there are countless perfect amounts for everything and every situation, and there is tremendous contentment to be found in taking the time to consider something well enough to figure out the perfect amount. If you're prone to "more is better" type of behavior, you'll be happier if you slow down and think about what you're doing, what you're really trying to achieve, and how much is really necessary. If you tend to be too conservative (I'm talking resource utilization, not politics), overcoming your natural tendencies to conserve and thinking about how much is really required to accomplish your goals will greatly improve your odds of achieving them.

There is a perfect amount. Any more is too much. Any less is too little.

So the perfect tempo is not really about music. It's about thoughtful consideration. It's about taking the time when you're doing something to consider how to do it really, really well. It's about defining what "really, really well" is! If you believe that things worth doing are worth doing well, then find the perfect tempo for everything that you do.