Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good (Gladwell 35).
I’m excellent at failure. I don’t say this because I want your sympathy, but rather because I firmly believe that in order to become truly good at anything, we have to fail, sometimes repeatedly. For a short period of my life, I used to keep all of my rejection letters from magazines, and journals, and graduate schools and ex-boyfriends and failing ninth grade math quizzes on multiplying polynomials. Eventually, through the course of several cross-country moves, I had to begin purging the relics of my failures. Not because they were too painful, but because I no longer needed these tangible reminders to keep trying.
Although we have set the goal of walking about six miles each weekend in preparation for our trip, it hasn’t exactly worked out that way. It’s the peak season for free lancing, there has been a snowstorm, we’ve had a few funerals (and a wedding) and there was the Super-bowl and the Oscars and that being said, endurance is not exactly my strong point. Nevertheless, I try, a little bit every day, to prepare.
For about five months I have hit up the gym every morning before work, but the length of my visit varies greatly from 20 minutes to 50 minutes and my activities are not always that impressive, unless of course I was trying to set the record for the world’s slowest crunch. My friends who voraciously read fitness magazines swear behind the scientific inaccuracies of this statement, but I’ll offer it, anyway, to those who are interested: the practice of going to the gym , even for a pitiful 20 minutes a day, is exhilarating. I doubt I’ve lost much, if any weight (Im not keeping track), nor have I transitioned from 12.5 lb free weights to some more impressive feat. I can run at a much quicker clip on the treadmill, but we will not be running from Coast to Coast, so I doubt this will help very much. What I have gained is this sense of the importance of routine. Those rare, 50 minute amazing workouts, wouldn’t occur at all if I weren’t in the habit of showing up every day. On the coldest mornings, when I am hung over with the exhaustion from the activities of the previous day, I continually reset my alarm, fumbling in the dark to add additional ten minute intervals to my sleep. These are the mornings where I expect nothing good to come of the day, but still I stumble out the door and am occasionally amazed by what I can accomplish in the twenty minutes I would not have had at the gym, had I not been in the habit of just showing up.
It’s the same with writing, I submit often and am usually rejected, sometimes, thanks to the digital age, within hours of submission. On Monday I had a record breaking six hour turn around from a journal with a long detailed note explaining exactly why I wasn’t a good fit and specifically what they did not like about my work. There’s a hierarchy even in rejection and failure; I was thrilled!
As I begin to amble down this more ambitious path, the practice of endurance becomes increasingly more essential. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes that genius requires at least 10,000 hours of practice. We might not always have the sustained training time available in our weekend to fully prepare for this trek, but on twenty minutes or more a day, I am slowly building the persistence to begin my glacial assent toward a quarter of the way to genius.