Learning takes patience.
By definition, setting out to learn a new skill or to put a new teaching into practice in life or in any craft requires us to first acknowledge that we don’t know how to do something or be a certain way. For many of us, this alone can be very discouraging and can trigger negative thinking and the inner voice of self-doubt.
In these technologically advanced times we live in, this tendency has been magnified. We want everything RIGHT NOW! We want the fast track to the promised land of greatness, the shortcut to mastery. We want the biggest result with the least amount of effort. This need to have it now, to get there ASAP, coupled with our resistance to the process cuts us off from the experience of learning and makes mastery impossible to attain.
I’ve discovered this tendency in myself recently when it comes to my craft. I’ve been playing guitar, singing and writing songs for over ten years and music is my greatest passion in life. When it comes to guitar playing, I’ve been at a plateau with my level of ability for several years and I’ve always seen guitar as my “white whale” – the thing that challenges me most. Determined to take my playing to the next level, I started taking lessons recently after being a mostly self-taught player for all these years.
I’ve taken a lesson here or there in the past but I’ve never gone in fully and committed to moving through my limitations and working my weaknesses. The first thing that I came up against is my impatience. I noticed that as soon as I see something I want to be able to do, I get excited about the possibility of being able to do it, quickly followed by extreme frustration at the realization that I can’t do it yet and that it’s gonna take a long time to learn.
This is the pattern that has kept me stuck and at a plateau for years. Every time I discover the edge of my ability and set out to expand my skill set, to grow as a player, I would get very quickly frustrated and lose my focus and will to stay the course. Enter the plethora of distractions that I would turn to in those moments to distract myself from the frustration: pick up the Iphone, “maybe I’ll work on something else”, I’m kinda hungry”, “I’m a little tired, maybe I’ll take a nap”, “I’ll get back at it later or tomorrow”, and on and on.
For the past few weeks, for the first time in a loooooong time, I’ve come to the edge of my ability and stayed with the learning process in the face of frustration, impatience and doubt. I’ve spent hours learning to play a twelve second piece of music that I’ve loved for years and that I never had the will or focus to learn. After avoiding it like the plague for the entirety of my path as a musician, I’ve finally decided to suck it up and learn music theory because I know it will enhance my playing and songwriting exponentially. I’ve been working on the same Beatles song for over two weeks and I’m just now getting to a point where I can really play it and sing it without having to think about what I’m doing. And the truth is, it feels sooooo good to honor my craft, to humbly return to a task over and over again and to revere the practice and the process as much as the outcome. The irony is, I’m growing and expanding faster than I ever did with my impatient approach and I’m investing in myself as an artist in a way that’s enriching my experience of music and creating deeper levels of fulfillment.
The same thing applies to how we live life.
It’s humbling to look at what you can’t do or don’t have and come face to face with what it will take to get from where you are to where you want to go. In order to do this and remain empowered, we must begin with total acceptance of where we are now.
As we come up against our limitations and become aware of our weaknesses and shortcomings, it’s essential to celebrate this awareness – which makes growth and new action in the direction of expansion possible – rather than allowing it to frustrate us or discourage us. Most importantly, we must remind ourselves that learning how to do anything new takes time. Learning how to do anything well takes a long time. And true mastery takes a lifetime.
So whether it’s in the practice of a particular craft, the pursuit of a big dream, the creation of something grand, or in the integration of a particular spiritual teaching or way of living, if you want to be a master and truly own your outcome, patience and surrender to the process are the only way. Once this mentality is adopted, it creates space for us begin with acceptance of where we are now and to truly enjoy every step of the process, with less concern about “getting there” or how long it’s taking.
There are no shortcuts to mastery. Start from where you are here and now. Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.
Published by The Daily Love (May 5th, 2013)