We’ve all heard the old joke: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.
Practice is often associated with discipline. When I think of the word “practice,” I immediately think of two things: musical instruments and sports. I spent countless hours practicing my flute and my French horn during my childhood. Every practice session began with boring warmup exercises, like long tones and scales and intervals. Only after going through a series of dull drills was I supposed to continue on with working on the pretty melodies and interesting pieces that I enjoyed playing. As I improved and matured, I understood how the boring parts of practicing served to make me a better player, and how they contributed greatly to my ability to play the “fun stuff,” and to play it well. But at the time, practice was a hated but necessary evil. Similarly, my friends who played sports began their practices with boring stretching exercises and repetitive and uninteresting skills drills. The boring parts of practice felt like the price we had to pay to get to do the fun stuff, and even when we understood that there was a valid reason why we did it, we never really liked it.
“Practice” is a word we use in our home quite a bit these days. We don’t do formal music lessons or sports yet, but my 5-year-old son has reached the age where he recognizes what he doesn’t know, and he’s frustrated by skills he hasn’t yet mastered. And every time he struggles with a new skill, I remind him that new things take practice.
In his preschool class, every morning begins with writing practice: the children carefully practice writing their full names on a chart. By the end of the week (or the month), you can see how much their practice has improved their letters: the first line is often wobbly, with letters of all different sizes, some facing backwards, some floating far above the line, some drooping below, a mix of lowercase and capital letters. But by the last line, the letters are neater and more uniform, showing more confidence and mastery. The charts are visible proof that practice makes, if not perfect, at least marked improvement.
Even as adults, we sometimes need to practice new skills. If we are laid off after a decade at the same job, we may need to practice our resume-writing skills, or our interview skills. If we learn a new skill, like knitting or skiing or digital photo editing, the only way to become proficient is to practice. Practice is, even in adulthood, a necessary evil. But it is also the only road to mastery.
After all, the only way to get to Carnegie Hall, whether you’re 7 or 77, is practice, practice, practice.