Do You Really Need One, Or Do You Already Have What You Need?
It was early spring, I’d been outside at Portland’s Saturday Market surrounded by art and craft all day, and I was cold. I ended up inside a music store with my husband and best friend, strumming an ukulele. Maybe I picked it up to have a reason to sit down and get warm. The salesperson said I was a natural. It felt peaceful sitting there strumming. A few weeks later, my husband presented me with the ukulele for my birthday.
Until that day in the store, I’d never strummed an ukulele or anything like it. Almost immediately, I dreaded practicing. It wasn’t fun. It never felt warm and peaceful like it did that day inside the store. And, I had no idea what I was doing, especially without any prior experience.
Years later, the ukulele tucked in a corner untouched, I realize the instrument was a quick fix for what I really longed for but could not see. I longed to practice. To sit down to my craft like an artisan and work, render, and compose. For whatever reason, I completely overlooked my lifelong loves of writing and drawing and chose something I had no prior interest or experience with. I’ve come close to doing this again with a long board, roller skates, Rosetta Stone for Spanish, and chess.
All of these things require hours of regular practice to reach a basic ability. Nothing wrong with learning something new, but where would I find the hours, weeks, months of time to acquire these skills? Most importantly, what about the things I’d already been practicing?
There’s a popular idea about 10,000 hours of practice to reach mastery or “greatness” (see Q). The idea can be intimidating if you’re holding an ukulele for the first time in your life and calculating how you’ll fit in this many hours.
Instead, look back at your life. What have you already been practicing? What hours might you have already logged? Look all the way back to childhood. What did you spend your free hours doing? What were you practicing?
Look carefully, because you might miss the obvious like I did. Here’s what I mean: I have boxes and boxes of journals that I’ve been writing in since I was eight years old. A few years ago, I sorted through another huge box my mom had kept of projects I’d completed from age five to six or so. Do you know what 70% of that box contained? Books. Books that I’d written and illustrated, stapled together and titled. (Not always in an order that made any sense, or with letters that could be read, but they were definitely books.)
Around this same time, a friend from high school showed me a book I’d made her for her fifteenth birthday. I’d forgotten all about it until I saw it, and then I remembered working diligently and happily in my room for many, many hours writing and illustrating this elaborate story about frogs. Never once during that time did I even consider how long my book idea might take to make, how it might fail, or whether it was worth the effort. I simply dove in and made a gift for my friend, who is adoringly possessive about it today, letting me hold it only long enough to thumb through and then taking it back.
Apparently, I’ve been writing, illustrating, and “publishing” my own books for decades.
Whether I regarded it as such or not, I’ve been practicing my crafts most of my life. Now I engage with them deliberately with daily effort, appreciating and commemorating my time at the desk. When I think of the 10,000 hour rule, I look back on all these years of practice and feel encouraged and dedicated.
If the ukulele ever sings to me and seems like something I would enjoy learning, then I’ll find a way to make the time. For now, however, I have the tools I need and the devotion to keep using them daily and honing my craft, the one that may have chosen me as much as I’ve chosen it.