Closing Time

If you’re like me, you recognize “Closing Time” as a song that was popular awhile back. I never really cared for it, and even if I did it was forever ruined by a performance I saw last year.

I attended an amateur fashion show that included entertainment intermixed with the modelling. The clothing was actually pretty good, and I enjoyed that part of the evening. Unfortunately, the entertainment wasn’t quite up to par.

There were four separate performances, I think, and one of them was decent while the others needed work.

As you’ve probably guessed, one performance involved someone singing “Closing Time”, as well as playing guitar. And as you might guess, the performance was lacking. To be clear, I give the guy a lot of credit for his willingness to perform to an audience…whatever the case may be, that takes guts. And I support anyone getting up in front of a willing audience and performing. Well, unless they’re arrogant. I hate that.

Back to the story at hand. Here’s what made the song difficult to listen to:

1. Every time the guy needed to change chords on the guitar, he stopped playing to move his hand. So there was no continuous rhythm.

2. He wasn’t able to sing the higher notes of the song, which is fine if you can pick an appropriate harmony to sing instead. But that didn’t happen, either.

I’m going to offer an evaluation of his performance, but first a related thought.

I was never a great athlete and rarely got high grades in gym class. I always put in a full effort, but all I had to show for it were B and C grades. On the flip side, I coasted through elementary school and junior high, putting in little effort and getting A’s. Meanwhile, classmates who worked far harder than I did struggled to get those B’s and C’s. 

And that’s fair. Effort is only part of the story. Execution is, in the end, more important. Put them together successfully, and you’re unstoppable.

Based on this rationale, I rate the performance as a C. The effort was there, but the execution was not.

Here’s another way of looking at it. Everyone in this world is capable, to some degree, to learn any skill. That’s just the truth…the question is how much effort people have to put in to learn that skill.

Let’s take singing ability. Imagine that, as with everything I discuss, singing ability is represented on a spectrum. Zero is an inability to sing at all, while 100% means that you have complete mastery of the skill. This same scale applies to everyone in the universe.

Within the 100%, everyone has a range of ability, so one woman’s personal spectrum might be 27-64%. The 27% represents her minimum singing ability…the skill she has with no effort at all. The 64% represents her maximum ability, beyond which she can never go by virtue of genetics.

In comparison, another woman might be 15-80%. With no effort at all, she’s not nearly as good a singer as the first woman, but her true potential is far greater.

The question, then, is what it looks like when we access this potential. And that requires another axis.

Yes, that’s right…we’re moving beyond linear spectrums and into the world of graphs.

The first axis we’ve already discussed represents your ability in a certain skill. The second axis represents the effort you put into learning the skill. Put in a 10% effort, and your ability might leap from 27% to 50%. That makes you a fast learner. Go up to 40% effort and you might master the skill…after that, any further effort you put in doesn’t actually improve your ability (though it does keep you in practice). Plot these points on the graph, and you’ll get a curve showing how much effort is required for you to reach new levels of ability.

Yeah, I know, that’s a pretty long-winded way of discussing a fairly simple concept, but I liked the build-up.

So, you’ve got your ability and effort in a single skill, represented by a graph. Whoop-de-doo.

But you don’t have just one graph, you’ve got thousands…perhaps even millions. For every skill that exists in the universe (the ones we know of and the ones we don’t), you have an ability. From boiling water to piloting a spaceship.

And what, you might ask, is the point of all this?

No point, really. I just got onto a tangent and felt like finishing the thought.

And besides, I like the visual of all those graphs…the idea that each of us has some level of ability to do anything.

And what brought this all on in the first place?

My new house closed today. Which made me think of “Closing Time”, which always reminds me of that fashion show, which made it necessary for me to write about the performance while trying to maintain my generally positive attitude toward everything, which led to the whole bit about skills as graphs, and brings us to this closing thought in a rather roundabout fashion.

I love this Web site.



  1. That was a tangent alright! You lost me when you hit graphs.

  2. I have to say, given the way you turned away from engineering, I’m surprised all that math resurfaced! Hope the closing went well, without too much stress. I remember how long closing day was for us, but it’s definitely worth having a place of your own!

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