I’ve had a dream since childhood of performing piano in front of a crowd. I imagine playing so beautifully and masterfully that it captivates the listeners.
What’s an impressive skill or feat you dream of? What would your big talent show moment look like?
I daydream of being fluent in a bunch of languages, too. Of singing an epic solo in a concert. Of being a published author or a successful public speaker. Of being a black belt in a martial art. Of winning a race. Of being a good dancer.
If you’ve ever seriously practiced piano (or worse, been in a house with someone else practicing), you know it gets repetitive at best–downright annoying at worst. To learn a piece really well takes patient, slow repetition. Today I came to a little part–just a measure long–that was just so tricky for some reason! It didn’t look hard on paper, but it just wouldn’t flow! I spent over 20 minutes practicing those 4 beats–slowly, quickly, left hand, right hand, all together–getting it right ten times and then suddenly losing it again.
Point is: Glamorous doesn’t start out glamorous.
Being a concert pianist is epic. But becoming a concert pianist takes a lot of very un-epic moments. And by a lot, I mean hours and hours, weeks and weeks, years and years.
Progress can happen very slowly. Success is rarely immediate or even quick. Mastery doesn’t happen easily.
And I think that’s why we DON’T go for the things we really want.It goes something like this. . . .
You dream of being fit and strong, of feeling confident and healthy. You feel inspired and you start going for it. You make a plan. You get excited. You start eating healthy and working out. Healthy doesn’t always taste great. Pizza sounds delicious. You’re tired. Planks don’t feel good. It’s been a week and you don’t see much of a difference. A month goes by and you’ve got some momentum, but you really miss taking it easy and eating all the sugar and dairy. You don’t really know how to take your workouts to the next level. You don’t know how to work on this muscle or use that machine. It’s too hard. It’s taking too long.
We give up on our dreams for 3 big reasons: DISCOURAGEMENT. DIFFICULTY. BOREDOM.
But those big obvious reasons disguise themselves as insignificant little moments: I can practice this part of the piece later. . . . I can go to the gym tomorrow. . . . I can cut this run short. . . . I’ve studied long enough for today. . . . This blog post can wait. . . .
The flip side is that finally “getting there” is AMAZING! Living your dream IS glamorous! Just close your eyes and imagine it.
Every time I master a beautiful piano piece, the unglamorous hours of repetition suddenly make sense. The beauty and happiness and pride make all the work more than worth it. . . . Every once in a while, one of my blog posts resonates with a ton of people and the feeling of helping–of making a difference–makes all the unconfident weeks of writing and scrapping and re-writing and wandering and writing again–all worth it.
Life is slow and difficult. It’s not all a concert. Most of it is the nitty-gritty, “boring” work to prepare for those concerts. But those concerts can be breathtakingly epic!
I’m a runner. Running makes me feel alive. I run often and I run hard and it makes me feel strong and accomplished and really, really, really happy. But I’m not an extremely talented runner.
I used to jog a couple or a few miles at a time. If I could manage to make it to the two-mile marker without stopping, I was pretty happy. I averaged about 10 minutes a mile on what I thought at the time were long runs. On rare occasion I would run-walk an entire 13.1 miles–a half marathon–and it would take me a few hours. A couple years ago I started running harder. After a year of on and off practicing, learning more about running as I worked on it, I did probably my proudest run: About 9 miles at under 8:30 per mile. And I could sprint over a half mile in 3 minutes. And then I fell over one day and got a concussion, and it took months before I could push myself to anywhere close to what I used to do. I’m still not there.
I have actually learned a lot from my (fairly humble) journey as a runner (fairly humble because I’m really not a great runner and may never be–did you know that Olympic marathoners average under 5 minutes a mile for 26 miles straight? I can’t even come close to running just one mile that fast). I’ve noticed that while I’m running regularly, I’m happier and more confident and I feel better about the way I handle myself and direct my life. I think it’s because the more I run, the more I realize . . .
You can be passionate about something without being the best at it. Respect the passion you see in yourself and in others.
It’s a competitive world out there. It’s very hard not to constantly compare yourself to the next person, and the trouble is there will always be someone out there who’s more skilled than you.
Some of my friends think it’s amazing that I’ll go for a ten mile run. But some of my friends go for hundred mile runs. Here’s the thing: If you go for a jog–walk breaks and all–for a half mile, because you want to run, you are a runner.
It’s easy to silence ourselves, or let others silence us, because we’re not the best–or not even very good–at something we love. But if you love it, be proud of that. Respect it. It’s still amazing. Trust me, I know who I am as a runner. I’m solidly mediocre, and incredibly happy to be a runner.
And I never want to put out someone else’s flame by making them feel like it’s not big or bright enough.
You can push yourself harder than you think.
I remember the exact day I went from being a comfortable runner to working for it. It was a 5k around my town–3.1 miles. I was running pretty hard–much harder than usual. I knew I was going to have to slow down–maybe even walk–after the first mile. But then something in me told me to keep going.
I think it’s the first time running has actually felt like really hard work. I had to concentrate on taking deep breaths and just push myself through the pain. Then I had to focus on not letting my legs slow down as they started to fatigue. I had to run through the tummy thrills and nausea, deciding I was going to win the mental battle and keep going.
I ran those three miles way faster than I’d ever done before. I was on top of the world, and it completely changed the way I run.
The more I pushed myself as a runner, the more I noticed myself exercising strength of will day to day in all areas of life: Sometimes you have to have scary conversations that it would be easier not to have. Sometimes you have to say no to the sugary snack calling your name. Sometimes you have to choose between feeling safe and comfortable, and making a big life change you know you really want. There are so many areas of life where if you really do the emotional, mental, physical work–and don’t back down–and keep going–and keep going when it’s starting to really hurt–and just be determined–you’ll do so much more and so much better than you ever thought you could.
Don’t take unhealthy shortcuts. Be patient. You still want to be able to run a year from now.
If you google “Mistakes new runners make,” you’ll find things like this at the top of just about every list: “Doing too much, too soon; Being too ambitious; Too far too soon; Not resting; Ignoring the pain.”
It’s almost comical how many times I’ve hurt myself running and not learned the lesson. There’s a lot that goes into doing something in a healthy, functional way. For running, some of these are: “Warm up and warm down; Don’t stop moving right after running; Don’t stretch when you’re not warmed up; Take plenty of time stretching afterward; Let your body rest and recover; If you haven’t been running 3 miles, don’t jump straight to 6.”
We often get so amped up about the thing we’re working on right now in our life that we forget we have to do it in such a healthy way that we can still be doing it a year from now.
A few other ways you can take unhealthy shortcuts: Working 70 hours a week on salary to try to build a career–and burning out; Trying to make emotional relationship work fit neatly into your schedule–and finding out too late the message that gives; Suddenly committing to never eating anything unhealthy again–until you suddenly go on an eating binge because you just can’t take it.
Most great things in life take patience. A shortcut that gives you a burst of endorphins and confidence today might later leave you even weaker and further from your goals than when you began.
Consistent baby steps add up.
Saving a little bit of money regularly can make you incredibly wealth. Learning a little bit more every day can make you an expert. And running a little further and a little faster every week will add up. I know this from experience.
Very few people suddenly become amazing at their thing. Even people who seem like they have come out of nowhere to suddenly realize incredible success and popularity have probably been stretching themselves further and trying harder day by day for a long, long time.
“Any time you see what looks like a breakthrough, it is always the end result of a long series of little things, done consistently over time.” – Jeff Olson, The Slight Edge
If you want to go a long way, you have to take the first step. And then the second. And then the third. And if you keep taking those little steps, you’ll get there.
There’s a lot of beautiful world out there for you.
Sometimes you just have to open your eyes and look around you. Head outside and see for yourself.
Thanks for reading!
Whether you’re a runner, a writer, a cook, a teacher, a traveler, or a friend–be proud of who you are, never give up, and may more and more happiness be with you!