When he was 12, Johnny Cash took three voice lessons.
He came from poor Arkansas cotton farmers and his mother washed the school teachers’ laundry to pay for the lessons.
But in those three lessons, it was clear Mr. Cash couldn’t sing like Hank Williams or Gene Autry or any of the gospel singers he liked on the radio.
The voice teacher listened to the untrained kid from the cotton fields. He didn’t have that deep, honest, suffered voice yet. But the voice teacher heard how the kid brought notes out into the air. And after three lessons, she told the 12-year-old something he’d keep to for the remaining 59 years of his life.
“Don’t take voice lessons,” she said to him. “Do it your way.”
So, Mr. Cash stopped the lessons. He would never be able to sing the great songs like a lot of the singers could.
“But I could do it my way,” he told the Academy of Achievement, “the way it felt good to me.” And, he added, when he did it his way, there weren’t too many limitations for him.
So, he sang his way. Wrote, played, dressed, worked his way.
And years later, when an interviewer asked him what was important in his life, he said his faith, his family, and also this:
“To do my work without looking back, to give it all I’ve got, and to take pride in my work as an honest performer.”