Expertise

I’m feeling pretty dumb right now.

And you know what that means…

I’m learning something!!

Over the past couple days/weeks, I’ve been humbled so many times, it’s surprising I’m not underground yet.

The thing is though, I’ve been around so many people who are so good at what they do that, all I think when they’re talking is: Holy crap this person is smart! How did they get so smart?

I have to remind myself: this person is an English major, of course they are so good at finding theme, reading books, paying attention to detail! They spent four plus years learning how to do it right and teach it to people!!

Or, this person has been playing for so-and-so many years! Of course they are that good!

And so on.

Every time I read one of those token required reading books in English class, I can only think, “Gosh darnit! Why can’t I be that good at writing? They have about 100 different tricky symbols in there, an intelligent theme, realistic characters, eloquent vocabulary, and perfect details. What the heck!!”

Every time I listen to good jazz or a talented jazz band play, all I can think (between bustin’ a move and babbling aloud to whoever will listen “Did you hear that? That was fantastic!” etc. etc.) is “How in the world are these guys this good?”

The answer, I’ve found out these few days, is because those people have just reached that level.

Simple as that.

There is no way to skip to a level like that. It takes some hard training and discipline to hone skills like that. Now, I’m betting half of those guys are naturals at what they do – writing and playing alike – but unless you are a freaky prodigy, no one picks up a horn for the first time and solos over a 2-5-1 or sits at a computer in the 7th grade and writes To Kill A Mockingbird. C’mon now, self!

(Not saying I’m in the 7th grade. Blech.)

It takes time. And it takes practice.

We are all students in our craft, regardless of our fluency in it. Some students who are good and far along divvy out some of their time to teach others what they have learned and what mistakes to avoid to streamline their journeys, but everyone’s still gotta learn. So I am as much as a student as JK Rowling.

Score!

(She’s just farther along than me.)

The thing is, though, one has to realize what shifts one closer to her goals, what is just for leisure, and one that really just keeps her stationary. None of which are bad on their own, but, depending on your goals, you must choose wisely of when and what you will do.To use myself as a metaphor once again, we can look at my “crafts” – music and literature. Something to listen to or play that shifts me closer to my goals would be jazz solos or live jazz. Something for leisure would be my iPod. Something stationery would be alternative or pop. (This is just applying to MY goals – if you want to be an alternative rock singer, your choices would probably be the opposite of mine.) I have to pick stuff that’s hard (and relevant). Like training for sports, I can’t do the easy sets – I gotta do something difficult, or my muscles will never grow, my reaction time won’t get faster, my skills won’t blossom. And I can’t do an exercise that doesn’t benefit what I’m looking to improve – if I need stronger legs, I won’t do arm curls. The extra stuff is fine, but just not as important as the relevant stuff. But nothing too hard, because that will do the opposite. If I work too hard, my muscles will be injured and I’ll have to recover instead of move on. My self-esteem will be lowered instead of challenged and rewarded.

Same with life. It gets easier to be diligent, disciplined, eager for challenge and progressive in one area of life if I apply it to all areas. It stinks REAL BAD in the beginning. Being applied and focused on homework is horrendous. Being applied and focused on folding my clothes is bad. Heck, even being applied and focused on just plain washing my hair or eating is difficult. (I feel more and more like I have no attention span.) But when I live my whole life spirited and determined, my favorite things to do are even more crystal clear and I can glean more and more out of each experience.

Plus, you’ll feel really rad after finishing something totally lame like a history project or talking to someone who is really boring.

***

So what have you learned today?

  • Do things that are important, relevant, and challenging.
  • Do them well.
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