Practice makes perfect, or so goes the saying. But perfect? I don’t want to strive for perfection. That just turns me into a stress monster with Martha Stewart Disease (see recent Tea Party post). And practice? Isn’t that just a heaping bowlful of boring? Seriously, now that no parent is standing over me making me practice the clarinet, why bother with the concept of practice at all?
As a kid, a skill either came to me all at once (reading, math), or it didn’t come at all (sports). Practicing anything was a real drag—it meant endless repetition of something I already understood (math worksheets), boring redo after redo of something I wasn’t invested in (the clarinet), or the worst scenario of all, an endless loop of humiliation when my total lack of skills were put on display (softball).
Now that I’m older I realize that the little kid me was completely missing the point. First of all, there’s the concept, once completely unknown to me, that a person can improve in an area they aren’t innately skilled at. Practice and a willingness to be open to instruction are two keys to unlocking that box. (If I hadn’t been so bogged down by how my softball non-skills were hurting my social standing, I might have been able to actually focus on the tips my gym teacher was telling me and learn a thing or two.) My friend and fellow blogger Sonya Dalrymple writes about this idea and how to best teach this to our children in her post “Bright Girls.”
I also see now that practice is about more than just getting to the end result. Sure, I would have loved to have waved my magic wand back in the fourth grade and miraculously turned myself into a fantastic softball player. But I didn’t enjoy the process of learning to hit the ball or catch it, so surprise, surprise, no miracles occurred. But when I do enjoy learning a particular skill, I am finding that the learning curve itself can be an even bigger gift than the success that may be waiting at the finish line. Practice, when paired with genuine interest, has some surprising benefits all its own.
Take writing, for example. Some time ago, a friend told me that I was doing a good thing by writing in my blog because of all the practice at writing I was getting. I was taken aback for a moment because I hadn’t been thinking of my blog as practice. (I thought of it as a finished product!) Suddenly I felt conspicuous, even more than normal—could everyone tell I was a beginner? But with time I have realized she’s right; my blog is practice. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Each time I write something, I learn something new. I move just a little bit further down the line, whether it’s in terms of becoming more comfortable with deleting huge chunks of mediocre text I’ve written, elaborating more on my final point, or figuring out just what my final point actually is. I’m proud of myself for this—both for practicing and for the improvements I’ve made.
And the best part is, it’s fun. When I’m in the moment, head down and focused, I am thoroughly enjoying myself. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in a job, actually. (I don’t know whether you can call it a job if no one’s paid you a dollar for it. But that’s just it; I want to do this, even without the dollars.) I’m starting to think that the practice itself—being in the moment and working on the challenge of constantly improving—is more than just important. It might even be the point.
Practice. It used to sound like a drag. But now I know that some of the most meaningful experiences and skills don’t just come all at once. Sure, when something comes easily to you, that’s nice. But most things worth learning aren’t that easy. They take practice.
If we are still stuck in a child-like mindset, thinking that practice is boring, ineffective, or embarrassing and that skills come tucked under our arm when we’re born, we miss out on all the gifts this process can bring to our lives. Not only is there no shame in being a beginner and practicing something until you improve, it’s something to seek out and embrace.
Whether it’s stepping up to meet a challenge or pursuing a craft you love, practice is about working, growing, and settling into the moment. When this process is focused on a deep and abiding passion, practice helps us in our quest to live life to the fullest and find our true path. Practice is not just a means to an end: “practice makes perfect.” That’s underselling it for sure. Practice may make perfect on a good day, but that’s hardly the point. Practice makes peace, and peace trumps perfect every time.
© Amy Daniewicz