Beginner's Heart

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Lately my grandmothers — well, all my old ladies — have been whispering platitudes to me as I sleep. Yesterday’s was practice makes perfect. Today’s is if at first you don’t succeed… You know the rest!

And yet… There’s a great deal of truth in those old sayings. Certainly this one. I confess: I HATE HATE HATE (really dislike) my learning curve showing. I have a dear friend (and former boss) who used to tease me about it: Britton doesn’t like her learning curve showing! And nope, Britt really doesn’t.

When I was a young girl, I didn’t even like to play at games or sports I didn’t already know well. Because I had (still have) rotten eye-ball-hand coordination, I was always the verrry last one picked for softball in gym. Remember those deadly days of captains choosing team members? Yep — I was always the last one in softball. I even learned to bat left-handed so I’d be walked. I stopped even trying to hit the ball — just waited to be walked, since almost no one could pitch for a lefty girl.

Somehow this didn’t translate to things I already loved, like piano, riding horses, or bicycling. I just did those things, w/ no thoughts of good/bad/indifferent. They seemed to fall in a different place — beyond my prowess or lack thereof. I wasn’t a great pianist, by any stretch, but I did okay. And I loved it, hating to practice, but always fiddling around on the piano. Playing, in other words.

Same w/ horses, except that I actually competed in dressage as a child. And although I only brought home a third-place ribbon, that was fine. Good enough — I PLACED! Ballet, where I must have been really awful, was no more frightening. It was sports and games that often frightened me to silence. They seemed to be so…well, so serious. There wasn’t room to play.

So when I see the meme on masters who fail, and beginners who need far far more practice? I’m 14 again, noodling around on the piano. Or even in my 30s, horse-sitting someone’s horse so I can ride her when I have time. Or this week, as I take on a visual journal challenge (I draw verrry badly!). If I look at these as play? I’m FINE. They don’t intimidate me in the least. I’ve even been known to share my exceptionally poor sketches w/ students, to show them how much more important it is to try than to succeed.

Because there is no success w/out significant failure, I’m certain. I wrote so verrry many bad poem before I published a good one. And I’ve drawn more badly deformed birds than I’d like to admit, getting my practice in.

Trust me: if this year holds a new hobby, sport, or even work skill for you, you need to give in to failure. The picture is absolutely correct: mastery is built from many many failures, which will outnumber the successes for what seems like ages. Until one day, there you are: succeeding. And it’s downhill from there. Honest.