Our fascination with excellence and those who manifest excellence leads us to some odd conclusions and slightly twisted relationships with the concepts; relationships that aren’t all that healthy, though they won’t cause congestive heart failure or flabby thighs. What I’m talking about is that tendency–which I believe we all have to some extent or other–to only do what we know we will be good at doing. This twisted view of excellence, the tyranny of perfection, seems to lead to a tendency to avoid anything that will make us look bad or foolish; the fear of failure, or not being “the best” are ridiculously debilitating and they shouldn’t be. Wild success could be equally debilitating because there might be some pressure to “top” whatever was done before. It’s nuts and can shut down the attempt altogether. It’s like not going in the ocean in Hawaii because fish, turtles, and everything else that lives in the ocean poops there. It just makes no sense; it won’t hurt you; millions of other people go into the ocean every day without harm. But if you think about it hard enough and long enough, such fear, however irrational, can be debilitating. It’s easier to say we should face the fears I mentioned and quite another thing to actually do it, right?
Ideally, we should embrace things we know we will be bad at (at first, anyway) in order to progress on to something better. We should seek out new and interesting experiences no matter how foolish they might make us look or sound. We should connect with the excitement of doing something cool, like playing music, simply for its own sake and not feel we have to be some sort of savant, expert, professional, or even competent, nice as any one of those things might be. And that’s where intentional practice come in. If you can get yourself into the ocean, despite what you might think you know about what goes on in there, you can use intentional practice to learn how to swim.
Here’s a link to a TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert author of Eat, Pray, Love. She speaks eloquently and provocatively about her own success and what it has done not only to her own thinking, but also the thinking of people she interacts with. It’s funny and thoughtful and related to this notion of excellence and achievement mentioned above. If you’re looking for a little burst of inspiration, look no further. Click the link…
Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.