Thursday, January 8, 2015

New Year, New Perspective, More Practice

It seems like eons ago now, but just last month, I was consumed with a most-important task: Buy a pair of black shoes for Jack. As a member of the middle school band, Jack was required to wear his red band polo shirt with black pants, black socks and black "dress" shoes for their annual Holiday Concert. All he owns are bright-colored athletic shoes.

Finding a pair of "cool" black shoes that weren't sneakers and didn't set me back financially — especially at Christmas time —was a neat trick. I shopped three or four shoe stores before I found a pair that would suffice. Granted, they were a bit large, but since Jack's a growing almost-13-year-old, I figured it was better to err on the side of having him flop around a bit than buy a pair he would wear once and outgrow. (By the time the spring concert rolls around, the shoes will fit.) I didn't count up the time I spent hunting down black shoes that were just right in price, size and coolness, but I suspect it was, collectively, three hours of my life.

The night of the concert rolled around and Jack looked great. He took the stage with the rest of the seventh grade band (more than 80 kids) and their sound was truly impressive. They played holiday favorites, including Believe from The Polar Express, which was hauntingly beautiful even with a few sour notes. It seemed they had hardly warmed up, when the concert was over. Their time on the stage lasted 10 minutes, tops.

Almost as soon as it arrives ...
"Thank you, Seventh Grade," said the band director "And now ... for the Eighth Grade Band!"

On the drive home, I complimented Jack on his performance. He took my praise with muffled thanks. "I doubt you could even hear me," he said.

"Well, you were part of the whole sound and that sounded great! Really, I was impressed. Was it fun to be in a concert?"

"Yeah," he said. "But we sure spent a lot of time practicing just to play on stage for a few minutes."

I considered Jack's complaint: The band practiced every day for more than an hour to play on stage for ten minutes. Likewise, I spent far more time than I care to count, trying to find an affordable pair of "cool" black dress shoes, and all for ten minutes on stage. I could have felt really let down, or even angry about wasting my time finding those darned shoes (which, BTW, I couldn't even see when Jack was on stage.) But as we talked about the ratio of practice to performance time, a thought occurred to me: Isn't this the way I've lived most of my life?

... the big event ...
So much of my life has been about planning, preparation and anticipation. In reality, very little of my time is spent on "stage." The "on stage" moments — the births, graduations, performances, tests, dances, parties, presentations, promotions, weddings, vacations, funerals — are fleeting. Most of my life is spent gathering knowledge, strength, money and time off for those brief events. Why?

What if I placed more emphasis, celebration, and sense of accomplishment on the practice itself? What if I practiced simply because I enjoy the practice — if I live for the sake of living — with the knowledge that the events will come and go? In other words, what if I could live as if the events were just practice, too?

Journalist Malcolm Gladwell studied the effects of practice in his 2008 book, "The Outliers: The Story of Success." In researching people and entities, such as The Beatles and Bill Gates, who achieved great success, the common denominator was not intellect, talent or resources. The common factor was practice. Specifically, he noted 10,000 hours of practice were required to achieve mastery and success. He dubbed this theory, the "10,000 Hour Rule."

... is over.
This time of year, I usually assess the past and set goals, or resolutions. In the past, I used to have a lengthy to-do list of aspirations for the year. But this year, I have only one resolution. (And not because I can't think of habits in my life I'd like to improve.) This year, my intention is to place less emphasis on the big events and more time celebrating everyday life.  That way, every day can be New Year's Day, a chance to start fresh and, yes, enjoy the practice of practice.

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