Thursday, March 23, 2017

You Will Get Better

Whatever you decide to start doing, you will get better at it. You will. It just takes time.

A LOT of time.

When I first started swimming, I naively assumed that my endurance from running would directly translate to swimming. And yes, I had the endurance. But what I didn't have any of was skill. I was like a pit bull that didn't understand why it couldn't chew its way through a brick wall. It was like trying to run a race with my shoelaces tied together. All the endurance in the world wouldn't have mattered.

Instead of accepting that I had to learn how to swim better, I just decided that I was a slow swimmer. I was a lumberjack trying to chop trees with a baseball bat, saying, "whelp, I guess I'm just a slow woodcutter." But this was a defense mechanism. I was accepting defeat early on so that I wouldn't be disappointed later. I was setting the bar very low so that if I did poorly in a triathlon, I could say, "see, told ya so."

It was super lame.

I've had a lot of breakthroughs in my swimming in the past couple months. Even just today I learned something new. I caught a swimming video someone posted online and immediately noticed a difference in their stroke from mine. I applied the change and cut the number of strokes it took me to cross the pool. Also my forearms hurt like heck now.

Instead of whining about how much I suck, I've decided to flip my ego the bird. I want to get better and faster. And since I've made that decision, I've noticed consistent improvement. And I remembered, "oh, right, when you practice something, you get better at it."

"Listen, I don't know how to say this....
But all that practice isn't helping."

You'd think I would've learned this from running. But when I started running I was an overweight alcoholic. It was easy to convince myself that I just had to lose weight and magically I'd get faster. Which was true to an extent. I also didn't really care back then. Once I started racing regularly, my running was already in a decent place. Although certainly it would have been better if I'd trained intelligently.

Part of my problem is that I'm a "natural", or at least I used to believe so when I was young. When I started training martial arts, I got good at it pretty quickly. Although once I got my black belt, I realized that I knew jack$hit. I was fast and flexible, but if I had ever gotten in a real fight, I probably would've gotten killed.

School was easy for me too. High school. I didn't do anything and flew by with great grades. And then I went to college and suddenly realized that I had no clue how to do homework or how to study. And no, I didn't get much better. I graduated with mediocre grades and promptly forgot everything I'd learned. I only vaguely remember how to build a band-pass filter. Resistors. Capacitors. Something something.

Learning a new skill takes a long time. Strengthening your body takes a long time. Doing anything of value takes a lot of hard work. Genetics and natural talent can help.... a little. But it's a double edged sword. I sometimes think of myself as a jack-of-all-trades. I learn new things quickly. But I'm not really an expert at anything. I've been doing karate for over 20 years and I still learn new things all the time.

Or at least I've learned to look menacing.

It's exciting though. It means that you can decide to do almost anything, and if you dedicate yourself to it and keep doing it, you will get good at it. You can start glassblowing right now, and in 10 years you will be amazing at it. That may sound like a long time, but unless you're an octogenarian, you will still have plenty of life left in 10 years, and you'll be able to impress all your friends with your mad glassblowing skillz.

A lot of folks will start something, realize that they won't be perfect at it after a week, get frustrated, and give up. They spend that time instead drinking beer and watching TV. Imagine how many talents you would have if you filled that time up with learning and training. How many languages could you speak? How many mountains could you climb? How many band-pass filters could you build?!

Time is your friend and the possibilities are limitless!

Although some folks will never learn...

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