One of my all-time favorite guides to writing isn’t really a writing guide at all. It’s called Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-term Fulfillment by George Leonard. My great friend and mentor Coach Tully recommended it highly and I’m forever grateful he told me about it. Crisply written and under 200 pages, this powerful little guide is all about the joys of practice and enjoying the satisfaction pursuing a craft. Here’s an observation that relates to yesterday’s post about focusing on the destination and not the journey:
“Early in life, we are urged to study hard, so that we’ll get good grades. We are told to get good grades so that we’ll graduate from high school and get into college so that we’ll get a good job. We are told to get a good job so that we can buy a house and a car. Again and again we are told to do one thing only so that we can get something else. We spend our lives stretched on an iron rack of contingencies.
“Contingencies, no question about it, are important. The achievement of goals is important. But the real juice of life, whether it be sweet or bitter, is to be found not nearly so much in the products of our efforts as in the process of living itself, how it feels to be alive. We are taught in countless ways to value the product, the prize, the climactic moment. But even after we’ve just caught the winning pass in the Superbowl, there’s always tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. If our life is a good one, most of it will be spent on the plateau. If not, a large part of it will be spent in restless, distracted, ultimately unsuccessful attempts to escape the plateau. The question remains: Where in our upbringing, our schooling, our career are we explicitly taught to value, to enjoy, even to love the plateau, the long stretch of diligent effort with no seeming progress?”
How well this captures one of the biggest challenges we face! One way or another, if we’ve been practicing our craft for any stretch of time, we’ve experienced the plateaus George describes — those fallow periods where we show up and work hard and nothing much seems to happen. The miracle of any discipline as George says so well is that a plateau is always he prelude to a surge: — a dramatic growth in our abilities and our mastery of a discipline. If we work hard and stay focused during these plateaus, the surges will inevitably come. The trick to successful “plateauiing” isn’t to push through it doggedly, but to love it: to love practice itself, the satisfactions of diligent effort – the journey.
What a gift it is to know this! Check out Mastery — you’ll be glad you did. Write on!
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