The Long Term Run

Back to english sooner than I thougth. Just for a moment.

“You should practice day after day, hours and hours, and don’t stop until you get really good at your art/design/code”

That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Seriously, and I will tell you why.

That sentence at the beggining is true, totally it is. You should practice day after day until you get really good at your art/design/code; but at the same time that sentence is sending the wrong message, and I really believe that those who says it non-stop doesn’t know shit about how life works.

If you have been blessed with all the resources available to study what you want, doing it at the pace you want, not having money issues and so on, then that sentence holds right on the back. For the rest of us this is how things usually end up being:

You choose a career based not on what you want, but in what is most profitable, based mostly on your family opinion, then you work hard on that, keeping in mind the thing you really want to do, and holding it back until you finish your career. Then, if nothing goes wrong (but something will, just let’s assume nothing goes wrong), you do finish that career and start to work, still holding back the thing you want to do. And then, family happens, children, mourtages, loans. Or maybe, work happens: meetings, deadlines, responsabilities, risks. And maybe, both of those things happens. At the very same time. Imagine that. And the thing you want is still there, but you maybe just forgot where you put it. On the other hand, if you choose the thing want from the very beggining, probably not based on profitability, then you need to work anyway, having a shitty part time job while you study, taking shit from bosses, clients, and even family. Maybe you will have to quit your studies because money starts to have this really annoying tendency to not wait until the end of the month to go with it. And then, the cycle exposed before happens. And the thing you really, really want is still there, but you maybe just forgot where you put it.

In some point in that cycle, you realize you can’t practice all you need in what you want to do while you try to get your life going. It is not possible. You find yourself practicing or doing what you love fifteen minutes a day. Not quite enough to be good at it soon.

And I’m really simplifying things for the sake of the argument, but that’s not all. If you are reading this you are probably a human being, and you have weaknesses and fears. You need to eat, you need to sleep; to talk, to move, to laugh, to cry, you need to fuck and you need to get drunk sometimes. And that’s totally normal, and moreover, it’s what makes you real and valuable.

Weaknesses and fears are the things that keeps your work apart from others, what makes your work unique, whether because you are hiding them or just showing them off.

And that’s when the first sentence becomes dangerous. When you, for real, convince yourself that there is no way in hell you could keep practicing as long and hard as you need, you create excuses, that first sentence becomes this one:

“There is no way in hell I can practice my art/design/code as long and as hard as I need, so I just probably have to quit”

And that’s the saddest thing that could happen to the world. Because, believe it or not, the world needs your art. The world needs your design. The world needs your code.

That kind of sentences (and beliefs, in general) don’t reflect the real risk at hands: the run at the long term.

You should be practicing the thing you like to do as long and as hard as you can, that’s very true, but more important than that, you should behave in a way that ensures you can be practicing, and doing, that thing you like a year from now, five years from now, a decade, the exact moment before you die.

By that I don’t mean you should quit everything in life and put your hands just on the thing you like right now. For most people, in some very specific moment it will be exactly that because there won’t be another chance to do it. But, in the vast majority of cases, it doesn’t have to do with none of that. It means something harder to accomplish.

You can’t afford to lose the run at the long term. All the frustration derived by the fact you can’t practice hard enough because of life, will make you lose the run at the long term.

You need to stop that frustration to overwhelm you. And that’s not easy, I know it. I’m struggling with that every single day.

I have no solution for this matter. I never promised not even a suggestion, to be honest, but a thing that I like to say to myself is that Fifteen minutes are more that zero minutes. If you can practice fifteen minutes a day, because that’s what life allows you to, it will frustrate you, but it’s a behavior that will mantain your chances to win the run in the long term.

The whole point behind that is that those fifteen minutes a day will turn in thirty minutes a day. Somehow. And then they become an hour. And then fifteen minutes again, and then two hours, and then five minutes; and then an hour. You get the idea. With some luck you will be working with that thing you want to do eigth hours a day, making a salary out of it.

Keep in mind that is the run in the long term the one that needs to be won. Is not an easy task, but it’s doable.

Let me know how that works for you.

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2 Responses to “The Long Term Run”

  1. ThePixelBrain Says:

    Thank you for this post! This article is the story of my life (the career choice, family, jobs, etc). And admittedly, maybe that’s because of the way I was raised, or maybe the way Venezuelan culture shaped me thought I resisted that process at times. I have found that different cultures seem to interpret the phrase you discuss in different ways. Because although individual drive and effort are certainly a big part of the equation, luck also determines opportunity from the day that you are born. In my case I have been fortunate in many ways but some things I just cannot change, thought I still try to change them.

    Your last words are very true, and teach a lesson about perseverance and patience. When we are able to find 15 minutes that is enough. And those 15 minutes will eventually turn in an hour, and sometimes more (and back to 15). Somehow doing what you like, and what makes you feel good about yourself will grow will be able to sneak in your routine event if it doesn’t that in an inconsistent manner.

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