Thursday

It's Not Enough to Walk



I suck at this!

When I taught High School and I would ask my students to do something that was outside of their comfort zone (which included almost anything they hadn’t done before), I was always amazed at how fast they would want to give up. They had extremely high standards and almost zero forgiveness for themselves while performing processes that were entirely foreign to them. “I suck at this!” was an all too common mantra in my class for the first few months. This biggest challenge for me in the beginning was not discipline or class management (I’m a big guy with tattoos), it was breaking down the belief that somehow, because they weren’t instantly successful at something, they were failures at life.

Of course you suck!

I think that much of the population operates under the false assumption that art or craft should be easy, mostly because true artistry gives us that impression. When we watch a true artist work, all we see is a blur of effortless technique coupled with an emotional delivery that, at its best moments, culminates in something that has the power to touch us at our very core. What we don’t see is the ten thousand, labor-filled hours that it took to arrive at the one moment that we have just had the privilege to witness. You can be certain that those hours were populated with millions of failures, large and small, that needed to be overcome in order to achieve anything that resembles the effortlessness that we see before us now. Taking that into consideration. it’s not only na├»ve, but downright ludicrous to think that we, as beginners, could do anything but “suck”.

It’s okay to suck. In fact, it’s great!

Mastery is a long walk. That’s one of the absolute best things about aiming for it. It takes a long time to get there. At first, your muscles are weak. At times, it’s difficult to even want to put one foot in front of the other. But if you keep going, before long, your muscles get stronger, your sense of direction gets better, your vision gets more acute, and you realize that the goal is not to reach a “destination” at all, but just to become a better walker with every step. This is not to say that goals aren’t important, just that they aren’t the point. If you’re a great walker, you’ll reach a ton of goals…and then pass them on the way to the next big thing.

“It’s not the destination, it’s the…oh, shut up, will you?”

I hate sayings like that. Empty platitudes that have all the power and imagination of an empty platitude. Phooey! However, in every saying, no matter how creaky, there is a kernel of truth. In this case, I agree that the important thing to focus on is the journey, but I think, for me it’s more specific than that. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of walking or (yikes) driving somewhere and when you arrive, you wonder how, exactly, you got there. I know I have. So, if you’ve been there and done that, we can agree that it’s entirely possible to cover some serious ground and not remember a damned thing about it. I think a lot of people embark on their creative journey this way. This approach can get you a long way, actually. It’s true that if you just keep walking, you will certainly get somewhere. If you make a thousand paper cranes, you will become proficient at making paper cranes. But, and it’s a big but, what’s lacking here is any mindfulness about the journey itself. Every step gives you valuable feedback, not only about your art, but about who you are as a person. The super-laser-focused-go-getters often develop a killer technique, but because their minds were elsewhere during the trip, they lack the soul that only comes with the experience of walking with intention and mindfulness. In the end, the journey isn’t really about the art at all. Getting better at the art is a byproduct. The journey is about you.

17 comments:

  1. This is a really good post. It's one of the most important lessons that people can learn, and one that I still have trouble with myself.

    In my own case at least, being able to deal with the frustration of sucking at something for long enough to get to the point where it's really enjoyable and rewarding is the hardest part, and the most important thing I have to learn at the moment. Thanks for the inspiring post, maybe it will give me some patience when it's all starting to get to me! =D

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  2. Yeehar to this! I'm currently going on one of those 'long walks' right now, am very excited about this soon-to-be-revealed project and am trying not to race ahead.
    I'm all about the details.
    And I tend to create too many choices and then I procrastinate.
    Plus I often have to invent processes along the way, test them and then get cracking.
    Labour of love indeed.
    I'm enjoying these musings of yours Paul, oh and I'm curious about those tattoos, my crush on you could be getting bigger!

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  3. Thanks for the comments! kfish - I know what you mean. This is stuff we all struggle with, I think. I know that I have to constantly remind myself to experience every step. Emma - I can't wait to see your new project. Let me know when it's done and on your blog. Oh, you wouldn't like my tattoos. They say boring stuff like "shoemakers are hot!" and "Melbourne women are my weakness". :-)

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  4. I'm liking the new opinionated, personal Dudecraft!

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  5. Sam - Thanks. That means a lot. Really.

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  6. This is a great life lesson. Thanks for reminding us again. The challenge is to teach it to our children, who gets discouraged very easily when they 'suck' at something. I guess leading by example is the best way to pass this lesson on. Thank you.

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  7. I was having a really bad morning. This really made a difference. Thanks Dude! I am going for a walk.

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  8. Great post. Thanks for this! Crafting has taught me a lot about myself. I often get frustrated or impatiant and forget that I do it for fun. I guess the best antidote to this would be bookbinding. I just got into it and was relectant for years because the stitching diagrams never made sense to me. Than I decided to make a tiny book about the size of a qaurter based on a tutorial minus the stitching instructions. I knew I was making mistakes and corrected it on the fly...The next day I found another diagram (with a helpful explanation) and it finally made sense! If I had not suffered through my ignorance I may have never come to understand what I am learning now.

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  9. Thanks kornkid4ever! I imagine that your bookbinding experience will readily spill over into each subsequent attempt at something new. Good for you! Thanks again for the comment.

    P

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  10. Another amazing meal for the mind here, Paul!

    It is SO easy to forget about the journey. The Gen X-ers and Gen Next-ers seem to be at the helm of the marked increase in our need for instant gratification. We want everything NOW. Information. Food. Entertainment. Fame. Fortune. Talent. With that seems to come this ridiculous sense of entitlement, too. Dance monkey, dance! The world is here to serve ME.

    Failure has always been the foundation of greatness. When we decide there's nothing more to learn, nothing more to improve on, isn't that essentially throwing in the towel? Isn't, "I suck at this!" just one more of those empty platitudes? An excuse to not have to try? An expectation that someone else will do it for you? A proclamation that you will not be responsible for what happens from here on out?

    There is this overwhelming mindset now of I- can-do-THAT-iveness. In some cases, that is a good thing. In others, though, like you pointed out, it's a blatant disregard
    for the process, and the resulting mastery of trying, failing (re: sucking!) and trying again.

    All too often I have also arrived at my destination with no memory of how I got there. How sad. Thanks for the beautiful reminder to treasure the trip, not just the destination. (You were right, by the way... love it!)

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  11. thanks. If you "suck" at something that requires skill and training you are far better at it then the person who hasn't ever tried it. The best example of this is gymnastics. I may have seriously sucked at it but i was way way better than someone that had never done it, excluding small fearless children, grrrr.

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  12. Thanks Christina and EQM for the comments! And thanks for writing so much. I love the responses.

    -P

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  13. Excellent post - I've printed this out to reread whenever I get discourage in my efforts to learn to drawn and to play the ukulele.

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  14. Brit - Thanks for the nice comment! I play the uke too!

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