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Talent Ain't Enough: Why It's Better To Be Miley Than Mozart

Jan 9 2014, 2:46pm CST | by

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Talent Ain't Enough: Why It's Better To Be Miley Than Mozart
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Talent Ain't Enough: Why It's Better To Be Miley Than Mozart

“He [Mozart] is too trusting, too inactive, too easy to catch, too little intent on the means that may lead to fortune. To make an impression here one has to be artful, enterprising, daring. To make his fortune I wish he had but half his talent and twice as much shrewdness, and then I should not worry about him.  – From a letter by Friedrich Melchior von Grimm, a Paris-based sponsor of a then-22-year-old Mozart, to his father Leopold Mozart

Had enough Miley Cyrus? Too bad. Settle in for another year of the child sensation, who recently turned old enough to drink legally.

She’s now the newest face of Marc Jacobs, posing alongside a dead redhead (who perhaps symbolizes the expiring career of Lindsay Lohan). And Miley’s yet again being condemned as the “epitome” of a civilization in decline.

But one could argue that it’s better to be a Miley than, say, a Mozart, as bizarre as it might seem to compare those two child stars.

Talent isn’t destiny. Mozart’s life shows that not even a person of boundless talent is necessarily bound for success.

Edison long ago demystified genius, saying that it consists of 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. The same applies to success, if you define success as being properly recognized and rewarded for your abilities and your achievements.

It’s a difficult lesson for most talented people, who too often sit around and sulk about why the universe is so tardy in throwing them a parade.

Most people couldn’t hum a Mozart tune or be paid to listen to one, but they’d still be happy to have the reputation of the Austrian composer. Really, you couldn’t have a better brand name than Mozart, who’s like the Rolls Royce of Rolexes or the Prada of Porsches or something along those posh lines.

Many people would rather not have the reputation of Miley Cyrus. Yet I imagine most folks would rather have Miley’s manner of success than Mozart’s, when you get down to it.

Some of Mozart’s work was properly admired and envied in his lifetime, yet good chunks of it were ignored. And rarely was it properly remunerated .

It’s Not Just Whom You Know—It’s How Far You’re Willing to Go

Mozart’s patron von Grimm told Mozart he needed to do more than just gently shake the money tree–he needed to climb it and cut off a few gold-coin-bearing limbs. Von Grimm did his best to write letters of introduction and recommendation that Mozart could take with him to rustle up more business. When those letters went largely unused, von Grimm shook his head in disgust.

Mozart when on to have an up and down career and he died in relative obscurity. And while scholars squabble about whether he received a pauper’s burial or an ordinary middle-class one, the point is that he wasn’t eulogized like even your average, garden-variety celeb would be in our own day.

That brings us back to the curious case of Miley Cyrus. Can anyone argue that she is “too trusting, too inactive, too easy to catch, too little intent on the means that may lead to fortune”? Not likely.

It does seem quite likely that Miley has benefited, as von Grimm suggested, from having half Mozart’s talent (okay, maybe one nano-molecule of his talent) and twice his shrewdness. (For fun’s sake, take a look at how Miley and Mozart compare on Google Trends ; Mozart’s best day came on the occasion of his 250th birthday, but it’s been tough keeping pace with Miley since then.)

If you don’t know Mozart but you have even a slight taste for classical music, give his 41st symphony (the Jupiter Symphony) a spin on your iPhonograph. Try his horn concertos, his piano concertos (especially the 21st and 23rd ones), or any number of other inspiring and accessible pieces.

You’ll agree with many experts that, while other composers were busting their humps to produce something worthy of public performance, Mozart seemed to be effortlessly “taking dictation from the gods.”

But that didn’t get Mozart what he wanted in his own lifetime.

It’s quite likely that, if he’d heeded von Grimm’s advice, he would have known the sort of success in his lifetime that everyone craves — the sort of success that his work merited while he was still around to enjoy it. (Remember, when Mozart died in the shadows, he didn’t even have the satisfaction of knowing how much his work would later be appreciated.)

But just imagine how things could have worked out if Mozart had Miley’s moxie. Or, hell, if you did.

[Please share your thoughts with our Forbes.com community in the comments section below. And hit Follow at the top of the page to get more career advice from Rob Asghar.]
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