Practice Makes Passivity
It's time to ditch 'practice makes perfect' for playing the game in the present moment.
“We’re addicted to our beliefs; we’re addicted to the emotions of our past. We see our beliefs as truths, not ideas that we can change. If we have very strong beliefs about something, evidence to the contrary could be sitting right in front of us, but we may not see it because what we perceive is entirely different. We’ve in fact conditioned ourselves to believe all sorts of things that aren’t necessarily true—and many of these things are having a negative impact on our health and happiness." - Dr. Joe Dispenza
The past four weeks, I’ve been preparing to submit my finished manuscript, The Sophomore Letters, out into the agent/publisher world. With reluctance that is. This manuscript is a work that I’ve spent over 18 months designing and redesigning. I still am making minor line edits before I do my first large-scale submission batch. I’ve come to the idea that it will never truly feel ready to go. In fact, my first novel still doesn’t feel prepared enough for the reader’s eyes - and it’s been in the consumer world for over a year now.
Reading literature in conflict has become a steady-state hobby of mine. I’ve come to find that whilst doing so, tiny whispers speak through even the most contrasted work - often linking opposing ideas together. For example, the work of Joe Dispenza and James Clear has, in my opinion, a common theme. Many of us agree with Clear very outright that if we truly want to reach our goals it is repetitive habits that will get us there. Passions are in no case a standalone business. The ideas of Dispenza are more openly debated. In short: living in a moment with no predictable future or familiar past is what opens the energetic door for us to become not just great, but supernatural. At a surface level, this can feel like a sniper shot at habit-based ideas.
For someone who has felt deeply connected to both of these perceptions, I sought out to find evidence in the real world for what I see to be true in my own life.
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Is Passion Just A Product?
After watching the documentary The Art Of Making It on a flight, several of the previous ideas seemed to coexist at once. This film is set on what it takes to ‘make it’ in the art-world. I was not surprised at all to find that it was portrayed as another gate-kept career path that relies on big-time investors purchasing the pieces like stock and then “flipping” them later for a profit. Director Kelcey Edwards pretty much debated this “flipping” for an hour and forty minutes, showcasing artists’ strong desire for the ability to let-go and simply focus on the painting, the inspiration, and the “fun” parts of a creative career rather than the business aspect. All of this is fine at a hobby level, but you can understand why it doesn’t work for those expecting full time income. Because like any line of work, if you are not playing the game - you’re losing the game.
This struggle that many artists felt victimized by is one that I feel strong familiarity with. I don’t know how many times I’ve said: “I just want to focus on my writing.” The business side, the social media marketing, and the trenches of putting yourself out there again and again and again: downright suck.
This idea that an artist should not have to be a professional marketing pawn is one that I have felt strongly about and have even publicly vocalized prior to this article. For quite some time, I’ve been of the belief that I’m a good writer so I should have time to just write. Because practice is supposed to make perfect. And to be a better writer, I need to practice more. All of us probably feel this way about whatever we’re perfecting in our life.
Q: Is practice truly how we get better?
Q: Is practice how we make a long-lasting and passionate career?
A: Maybe not.
Practice VS Playing The Game
There is no doubt that experience is a sturdy platform for performative success. Any professional athlete without practice would not be competitive. For anything in life, practice is a tool that is necessary for us to excel. For a professional athlete whose excellence relies on numbers over the scoreboard or on the clock, this makes sense. But I’d argue that in most cases - it’s not the full recipe for notable success. It’s not even the main event.
The Art Of Making It really stuck with me for several reasons. First, because it portrayed the artists as hopeless subjects who don’t stand a chance if they devote themselves to true creativity. Because we’ve committed to the idea that “true creativity” cannot be commercialized. Nor can a true artist be a smart business person. (Incorrect!)
Jenna Gribbon, an art-world success story, speaks semi-regrettably on her decision to get an MFA. After years of silently protesting the MFA-to-known-artist pipeline, she caves on this cause and decides to go for the degree on a hope that it opens doors within her career. It does. The movie ends with her art showing at a major gallery in which every single piece is on hold or sold. An opportunity that was seemingly made possible by Gribbon’s pivot choice to let go of her old beliefs and to start playing the game.
As a writer who does not have an MFA and realizes that if I did, I would easily bump shoulders with big players in the writing world - this one is hard to swallow. The way that the industry is set up is incredibly frustrating to early-career writers everywhere. Like most artistic industries, the barriers to entry aren’t just high. They’re soaring.
That being said, I have choices: let the work speak for itself or write a good book and play the game with an open mind.
Habits are necessary to conquer our goals. If I wasn’t writing everyday, I wouldn’t have either of my novels. But, too often, we’re told that this is all we must do: practice - it makes perfect. Your work isn’t getting recognition? Do better next time. Make the work cleaner. Practice harder. Be better.
Yes, necessary. Especially as someone who wants to be the best. But, that idea also leaves all of our power in the hands of other people. We’re hunched over our desks perfecting our work’s quality, praying for the big bang to come notice and shoot us out of a cannon. We need an explosion. A huge moment of we-made-it! And it never quite comes. Because, practice doesn’t always make perfect - does it?
Sheer Audacity and The Habit Loop
Practice, practice, practice can be a dangerous mindset if we take it too far. Because at some point, the practice is going to pay off. We’re going to be good.
The mistake made here is NOT that being good at a certain skill is a qualifier to being successful. I would say that’s true. Rather, the mistaken idea is that being good at a skill is the only qualifier to being successful. Because it’s not.
Sheer audacity has a lot to do with big wins. While we first must ask, do we have what it takes? We then must questions: are we willing to try anything to get there? Even the little thing we’re putting off right now?
While not obviously linked, I’m of firm belief that we’re able to break old systems with new perspectives. I do not think every successful artist/writer/career-man needs a graduate degree. But, I think to some extent they need the sheer audacity to welcome the mysterious ways that success finds skill. And when we’re stuck in a habit loop, this can be a blindspot.
The habit loop tells us that it’s redundancy is the only way we’ll self-actualize. And it’s hard not to buy into that idea, because building a skill at any scale takes time. Redundancy is necessary. It’s great even! But, it’s only the cushioned groundwork that catches us when we decide to take the leap of faith.
Addicted to The Past While Hoping For The Future
I’m faithful in the rigged game of chance. A game that appears totally unfair, unforeseeable, and lucky. To the naked eye, things just workout for some people. And those some people are typically the ones that were spinning the wheel at all.
Humans are wired to survive. We’re constantly thinking about our past and futures. We’ve often found methods that seem to work just enough. So we stick to them. We keep our ideas about our future in our minds while married to our systems of the past. The same day, everyday. Practice, Work, Eat, Sleep, Repeat. We might be the best in the world with all this practice and sleep. But, whose going to know?
The Big Bang is not going to happen. For 99% of people - there is no lottery ticket or single moment where everything happens to align. Rather, it’s usually a series of small moments that look to others like a single big one. By living in the present and taking advantage of small and large opportunities that arise, we’re able to pave the way for ourselves.
Living in the present keeps us in the game. If practice is the wings that we will use to fly, being present in the moment is the big jump. Showing up everyday ready to try a new strategy is the choice that breeds advancement. If you practice speech in the mirror every night, but you’ve never given a presentation to your online class group - do you really expect to be discovered for a Ted Talk?
You can always be too far ahead of yourself. You can always think you’re too far behind. You can never be too present for the right now.
Everything is at an arm’s length when we’re only living in the past and the future. It’s really the people who can stay grounded in the present who have the ability to take the swing.
How Do We Show Up For Ourselves In the Present Moment?
Focus on one thing at a time.
This is something I struggle with big time. I’ve purchased licensing for novels that I haven’t even started writing yet. This is not living in the present moment.
You can’t start networking without taking advantage of the simple act of meeting people. You can’t start applying for jobs without figuring out what it is that you’re even looking for. You can’t start marketing the book before you write the book. It’s easy to be ten steps ahead in fantasy land. It’s harder to make yourself slow down and truly diagnose what you need to do for where you’re at.
Keep an open mind about the ways in which your desires can deliver.
The world works in mysterious ways. The bigger your goal the harder it is to remember that there is not one single path. We’ve been convinced that our dreams can only come to us one way. And that one way is typically the most difficult way imaginable. But, by staying in the present we start to see the doors that open in a million other ways.
When I was looking at moving I was scouring listings for the place I wanted to live, stressing about getting the timing and neighborhood right, ect. About two weeks later a coworker had asked around about takeover for her place at the exact price I wanted to pay in the perfect neighborhood on the same date I wanted to move. Had I ever expected that to happen? No. I didn’t even know this person. But, it’s just proof that you probably can’t predict how things are going to work out. And if you could, you’d even make it a lot harder on yourself.
Stay focused on your goals and your positive self beliefs.
"It’s essential to keep yourself laser-focused on your positive vision of your future. That means writing down your goals, and it also means writing down all the thoughts, emotions, and excuses you will refuse to let slip by. When you write those thoughts down, you take control of them. You reorient your mind away from your old patterns and toward your new and happier future." - Dr. Joe Dispenza
Know when to play the game instead of replaying your old patterns.
Easier said than done, but perhaps the most vital point of this article.
Happy March! The Sophomore Letters is finished and we are showing up in the present moment to find her the correct home. I’ll have some announcements/updates later this week on my social media. Thanks for reading! Have a great week. :)
I think the old SMART goals acronym is a good practical tool for striking that balance of vision and staying grounded in the moment.
I love your ideas and perspectives.