When It's Quantity, Not Quality
Updated: Oct 15, 2018
Yesterday, my kids participated in their first karate tournament. It was a huge event for our family, and my heart nearly burst out of my chest at the sight of my babies sparring their way to greatness. It was a majorly formative experience for them...but also for me, in a way I hadn't expected. Over the course of the day, we got to see demonstrations done by 6th and 7th degree black belts. It was amazing. So many broken boards. So much sparring. So much bowing. I was literally punching the floor like a maniac because merely clapping for them seemed insufficient. But I noticed something interesting about those fancy pants (literally, so many chevrons on their britches!) black belts. With all their experience, with all their knowledge, with all their years of training...they didn't break every board on the first try. Let me repeat that. With all their experience, with all their knowledge, with all their years of training...they didn't break every board on the first try. And, what's more interesting: When the board didn't break? They just laughed it off, took a minute, and tried again. And again. Until it broke. I thought to myself, "Wow...why aren't they more rattled? I would be freaking out right now in front of all these people if my board didn't break!" And then it hit me. In the course of their study, in the literal lifetime that they have devoted to this discipline, they have broken hundreds of boards. They will break hundreds more. That one moment of not being "perfect" is nothing to them. It's a blip. It's one tiny moment in a million moments of a lifelong practice. It doesn't rattle them for two reasons: 1) They've been doing it long enough to have developed a track record that they trust. They know they CAN do it consistently but that it won't always go the way they expect. 2) They expect to pursue this art form for the rest of their lives. This moment doesn't define them, their skill level, or their abilities. They plan to continue doing the work, regardless of what happens in this specific moment. When things don't go as planned for these athletes, they don't interpret it as a reason to quit, as a judgment on their abilities, or as a reflection of their talent or character. They see it as a blip. Not their best, sure. But not a catastrophe either. They know that it's a mere moment in the larger scope of a lifelong discipline. The same is true of... pianists at the keyboard. tennis players on the court. artists in the studio. researchers in the lab. golfers on the course. runners on the track. conductors at the podium. writers at the laptop. preachers at the pulpit. teachers in the classroom. And so on. Young musicians often interpret "not being perfect" at something as a sign that they are not supposed to do it. I often hear singers express frustration or limiting beliefs that they don't have "it." That they're not "born with it." That they're not "good enough." That it's "just not their thing." These young, talented, yet discouraged musicians have believed the lie that skill is innate, not cultivated. The truth is, of course, that skill comes from a lifetime of doing. Of making peace with our bests and our worsts. Of listening to and learning from those who have gone before us. Of knowing that one day means very little in the scope of a lifetime of practice. Of knowing that those "worsts" don't define us, because we'll just get up tomorrow and keep at it, whatever "it" is. Sometimes it's about the quantity of our practice, not just the quality.