Before I left for China, I indulged in some singing lessons. I only managed three lessons so don’t expect lyrical bliss anytime soon. In fact, the lack of warbling perfection is the reason for this post.
I had a jam with my dad the other day. He played the guitar and I sang. I’m pretty sure I made a hash of it. Thank goodness it was in our back room and not in company! Anyway, feeling deflated I wrote my singing teacher an email mentioning my flop (among other things). In her reply she bestowed this gem on me:
This stuff takes time…. years!!! Just enjoy the journey and the challenge 🙂
While taking this to heart, I realized that this applies to any creative endeavour.
It’s the Journey, Not the Destination
When we start writing or painting or other creative pursuits, we want to be published, be recognized, be extraordinary, or at least be able to compete. We forget about the ‘in between.’ The time it takes to become good at something. Because skills take practice, and practice…well practice is dull, right?
Your Creativity likes new things. He/she is addicted to the excitement and discovery. Practice is just more of the same. Nothing new. Nothing exciting.
Or is it?
Practice and learning a skill is a journey, with many interesting landmarks along the way. Each time you make progress you are doing something new. Think about it. The first time you hit a high note. The first time you play a song all the way through without mistakes. The first time you master a painting technique. The first time you finish a draft. These are all moments to cherish and celebrate. Some of them will be moments you’ll remember for the rest of your life. All of them will be milestones, because without accomplishing them, you could not have travelled further.
And I’ll let you in on a little secret. Creativities love to celebrate. They love to know you’re happy with them, and they’ve contributed to an accomplishment of some kind. They love to succeed. Don’t we all? So view each little milestone as a success. Find little things to commemorate, appreciate and reward.
When on a road trip, we often collect bumper stickers to show where we’ve been. Why not cover your fridge, pin-up board or bedroom wall with ‘bumper stickers’ of your journey? A word count you’ve reached. An outstanding sentence you wrote. A truism you finally understand. Show people, and yourself, where you’ve been and what you’ve done.
When journeys are long, we measure them by what city or town we’ve reached. As you practice, find ways to measure your improvement to keep yourself and your Creativity interested. Try drawing a road map and mark the places you intend to visit – the goals you intend to achieve. Leave plenty of room to draw new locations as you get nearer to them. There will always be extra goals to accomplish as the journey goes on.
Many of these milestones we cover in our journeys are moments everyone must achieve in order to continue. And this brings up another point.
It’s a Journey, Not a Race
When we start learning a new skill, we crave proficiency. We want to be right up there with the big names. We want to write great work, sing fantastic songs, accomplish our dreams. In the drive to succeed, we often seek to speed up, desperate to get to the top of our game as quickly as possible.
But in the process we miss the scenery. We skip, gloss over or drive right by experiences and opportunities we may never pass again.
Remember, this is a journey; it doesn’t have to be a race. As Mahatma Ghandi once said:
There is more to life than increasing its speed.
So slow down. ‘Just enjoy the journey.’ The hardest journeys take the longest time, but usually pass the most interesting landmarks. So instead of finding ways to speed up your progress, why not revel in each step – milking it for all its worth before you move on? After all, you wouldn’t want to have reached journey’s end and realise you’d missed an important step just because you were moving so fast.
Enjoy your bad drafts. Revel in those bad writing days. These are all part of the process. Everyone goes through them. Get yourself the bumper sticker, display it proudly, and potter on to the next attraction.
To see this principle in action, have a read of this article: The Special Joys of Super-Slow Reading by Sydney Piddington. It details his reading experience in Changi POW camp. You’ll never think of reading the same way again.