Practice (and performance) Makes Perfect

I’d like to counter-balance the lies of last week with a dose of honesty. I am answering the question, What’s the point of this blog? And it begins with a story.

When I was about twelve years old I ran cross country. If you knew me then you know I was a fanatic. I logged forty miles a week and ran to a literal breaking point, suffering not one but two stress fractures. I ran so much and so hard because I wanted to be the best. I wanted to win every race- by a lot.

Before a race I would feel one of two ways: prepared or unprepared. If prepared, it didn’t even feel like a race, but a practice run- a fast one; I was confident, even goofy. On the other hand, if I thought I was unprepared, then I felt anxious and angry at myself for not training enough.

As I became more obsessed with winning, paradoxically I became less concerned with training. I stopped pushing myself. I started taking short-cuts. As a result, I started to feel anxious at the starting-line more often, freaking out that I might not win. This culminated at the state championship for cross country when, somewhere during the second mile, I had a panic attack and passed out.

Shortly after that, I quit running.

I haven’t become as passionate/obsessed with a single activity since then. That’s probably a good thing; it’s allowed me to cultivate a variety of interests. But I wonder if- because I’m less a fanatic- my potential remains dormant.

Take this blog, for instance (I told you I was answering the question). My goal is not to write the absolute best piece of writing ever. I’m more focused on producing regularly. This blog has definitely allowed me to reach that goal. I play with ideas throughout the week. Most of them get thrown out, but the important thing is that I’m writing every day. In fact, my favorite part of the week is Monday morning, when I have to start all over and don’t know what next week will be about.

This is the opposite of how I ran cross-country. Then, my focus was on the race, the performance, the finished product. Now my focus is on the training, the practice, the process… this way is definitely healthier, more sustainable, and more enjoyable every step of the way. However, again I ask, could I be doing better?

Yes. Perhaps the time has come for me to re-introduce “the race” into my life- in regards to writing. What would that be? Writing a book, getting published, and performing live. These three tasks, by their very nature, would demand of me a more rigorous training process. They’d force me to write 3-4 hours a day, study grammar, expand my vocabulary, learn from the greats, and- most intimidating of all- revise, revise, revise… things which, frankly, I don’t need to do in order to do this blog. Not to the extent that I’d have to with a more challenging goal.

I am not saying I resent this blog. Last week was a complete Aprils Fools’. I love this blog. Underspecialized has gotten me into shape as a writer- and continues to keep me in shape. It’s the equivalent to the weekly long distance run I used to do as a foundation for the rest of my workouts. And I’m not going to shift my focus to writing “the Great American novel”. That old wish to be the best was pure ego.

The balance I’m trying to achieve involves a reversal of how we look at things… usually we train in order to race, practice in order to perform. My hope is to perform in order to improve my practice, to race in order to train harder. Looked at in this way- giving the process the respect it deserves, while not making it the sole purpose- I’m more likely to tap into my potential, as well as less likely to pass out.

  1. #1 by KW on April 14, 2013 - 8:49 pm

    Thank you for opening your heart to your readers. I love this insightful post!

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