My big sister Jill is a person I have long admired.
She’s one of the those people who seems to succeed at everything she does and I was always somewhat envious of her success until one day she revealed her secret.
Jill retired several years ago from a lengthy career as a pediatric pathologist during which time she acquired Ph.Ds in much the same way others collect stamps.
She immediately set her sights on other accomplishments and at a, hmm, mature age decided to become a proficient ballroom dancer.
It wasn’t good enough for my sister to become an okay dancer; she set her sights on international competition.
To reach this level of ability requires a high degree of fitness, flexibility and fluidity and, by her own admission, when she set out on this mission, Jill came up short on all three.
But as I mentioned above, Jill has a secret that she has called upon and used extensively to aid in her success throughout her entire life.
Jill’s secret is this: in whatever she sets out to do, SHE WORKS AT IT.
My sister understands that the secret to getting better at anything is practice; regular, consistent and recurring practice. She long ago learned that The Habit of Working At It is a sure way of incrementally making progress at whatever we set out to do.
Seldom do we experience quantum gains in our abilities. Improvements in skills are usually incremental – one teeny bit at a time – and it is the constant accumulation of these teeny bits that lead to the genius level performances we witness when we observe world-class performers ply their trade.
Jill has been dancing competitively for the past year and to get there she has spent several years paying the price of consistently working at it. Her abilities have improved, little by little, to the point where she is now “good enough to compete, just not good enough to win…yet.”
My nephew Michael recently told me he is teaching himself how to play the guitar. He’s experiencing the same results as his mom. His practice is regular and consistent and, as a result, he is now regularly experiencing tiny little improvements and aha moments resulting from his commitment to The Habit of Working At It.
I really began to understand this concept a few years ago when I bought six new bookshelves for my office.
Naturally, I assumed they would arrive fully assembled and ready to be placed in their new permanent homes.
I was wrong and so I took it upon myself to assemble them.
It seemed easy enough; all I needed to do was follow the instructions and all would go well.
Except it didn’t.
Now I have to admit I’m not the handiest person was tools and I suspect at least 50% of the time required to assemble the first bookshelf was spent swearing at pieces of particle board, the store where I bought them and myself for assuming they would arrive assembled.
It took quite a while but eventually I was done and it looked exactly like the picture. The second one was a lot easier, with far fewer timeouts for cursing.
The third one came together with hardly any effort and by the time I assembled the sixth bookcase I considered myself to be in the expert category.
Ah, the incredible power behind The Habit of Working At It.
I had transitioned from ineptitude to professional in only six short bookshelves and, with mission accomplished, I stopped working at it.
About a month ago I added one more bookshelf to my collection. I was confident that this time assembling it would be a cinch. I had forgotten that skills are a “use or lose” phenomenon and struggled with this one as much as I had that first one several years ago.
My sister has just returned from a competition in Vienna. Unlike me with my bookshelves she has never stopped striving to become better and her constant advancements as a dancer serve as a powerful reminder to us all that The Habit of Working At It is often all that stands between mediocrity and genius.
Thanks for the lesson, Jill. Why didn’t you teach me this one years ago?
Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.
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