John Roche | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

John Roche


John Roche is an award-winning journalist who teaches at Western Connecticut State University. His first novel, "Bronx Bound," was published in 2015.

The Mistake: 

I used to think real talent was all I needed to become a successful writer. Bull! Sheer talent doesn’t do it. It’s a falsehood that talent is enough.

I’m a huge Derek Jeter fan. I had the opportunity to cover Jeter when I was a newspaper reporter, when he spoke to kids at two events in the Bronx. I’ll never forget when somebody asked him, “What is the best advice you ever got?” and he said, “That’s an easy one. My father told me that there will always be somebody more talented than you, but there should never be anybody working harder than you.” I still get goosebumps when I think back to Jeter saying that.

His message might have been lost on the fourth graders but hearing it changed my life. I thought, here’s a guy who at that point had already won three World Series Championships. He had already won Rookie of the Year, World Series MVP and All-Star Game MVP.  Yet, he’s talking about how there is always somebody more talented than him.  He explained how in high school he might have been the best but guess what? He went to the state championship and there was somebody better there. Then he went to college, then to the minor leagues, and then he got to the Yankees. And he wasn’t even the best when he got to the Yankees. But he brought his father’s advice with him.

So I starting thinking to myself, “You know what? I’ve been given this talent,” just like everyone else in this writing program. We are all given that writing talent. But the talent’s not enough. Nobody’s going to come in and say to any of us, “My God, you have this aura of talent about you. What can I do for you?” No. You need to work at it. You really need to respect your own talent. It’s not being boastful. It’s not patting yourself on the back.

There will always be somebody more talented than you, but there should never be anybody working harder than you.

The Lesson: 

Maybe I’m overgeneralizing, talking about all writers, but I know for me, I sometimes get into that artist idea. I think that I have to be in the right frame of mind to write. That the atmosphere has to be perfect; the Muse has to strike. But sometimes you just need to look at yourself like a carpenter. A carpenter never says “You know what, I’ve got to refinish that bedroom today, but I’m not in the mood. I just don’t feel like doing it.” They might feel that way but they go and do it anyway.

I had to learn how to respect my own talent enough to work really hard at it. The key to a successful writing experience is simply writing the best you can. I may look at a classroom of writers and think I know who the single-most talented writer is. But if I had to choose who will work hardest at becoming a better writer, I'd like to able to call it a tie by choosing all of them. Think about what Jeter said—there’s always going to be someone more talented than you, but there should never be anybody who works harder.

Photo courtesy of John Roche.

Follow John Roche on twitter at @johnrochewrite.

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