sticking it out
Joe Brainard, Pansies, 1968
I’ve been thinking lately about breakthrough moments, which seem so implausible before they actually happen. I am someone who hates being bad at things, which is an inconvenient quality in a world where it takes a long time to get good at anything at all. When I was younger, I’d feel so frustrated by my insufficiency that I’d just throw in the towel and give up.
The particular feeling I hate: you’re bad at something, and you want to get better, but you’ve been bad at it for so long. Maybe you’re just doomed to be bad at it? It feels so unsatisfying to keep going when you see other people improving faster. What’s wrong with you?
The solution, if you’re willing to stick it out: you still keep chugging away at it for a long time, sometimes consistently, sometimes sporadically. And then suddenly one day you’re doing the same thing you always do and you realize that something feels different.
Yoga is a good example. I’ve been doing yoga on and off for six years. In the beginning, I was truly just going through the motions—looking around to see what everyone else in class was doing, rolling at my eyes at the teacher’s comments about loving all beings. Then three years ago I had a stretch when I went every day and started to love it. During that time, I improved really fast. It felt amazing. But after a few months, I plateaued—I’d improved a lot, but with certain poses it felt like I’d simply hit a wall. I practiced at home, trying to get better, but I simply couldn’t move the needle very much.