Learning something new is tough. Not only are you in the midst of acquiring a new set of mental – and at times, also physical – skills, you’re also in the middle of trying to figure out whether this new thing, no matter how shiny, novel and intriguing it may have seemed at first, is really for you.
And when you start out, you’re faced with the reality of how little skill you have. No matter what your opinion of your own skills were, no matter how much a quick study you think you are, no matter whether you already possess attributes and abilities that relate to the new thing – sooner or later, you come to realise that you suck.
At the time, this seems like a slap in the face. Why the hell are you continuing when you’re so crap at it?
Yet if we keep going, it’s these moments, painful as they are, that can actually help us recognise, further down the track, that we have made concrete progress.
I had a moment like it during the eight weeks of boot camp I did last year. That moment was the wheelbarrow.
I did a lot of stuff on boot camp, and in each area I expanded what I was capable of. From running to push-ups to overhead lifts, each session brought me something I’d never done before – and even if I didn’t make the count that Nick or Tom asked for, it was still more of it than I’d ever done before. That thought kept me going a lot of the time.
That was, until Tom asked us to do the wheelbarrow.
You probably did it a few times with mates as a kid. It’s a two person exercise. One person assumes a push-up position; the other then lifts the first up by his or her ankles. The pair then need to cover a certain distance; for us, it was something like fifteen entrees.
First time I did it, it was awful. My arms could barely support my own weight. I fell forward onto my face three times before saying “enough,” before we even got to the finish line. Supporting my buddy on the way back was only marginally more easy. Tom gave me props for making it as far as I had – but it was still one of those smack-you-in-the-face moments. I couldn’t do it. It was too much.
A couple of weeks later, Tom told us to do the wheelbarrow.
I felt that lead feeling in the gut. Not that again.
Then a thought occurred to me; I’d been improving in all kinds of exercises in the meantime. I was doing more push-ups than I had before, running more comfortably, breathing better. Maybe now I could actually make the distance?
So I assumed the position and my buddy took my ankles – and off we went.
I did it.
Sure, it was work, but my shoulders, arms and core were all what they needed to be to keep me going. My buddy talked me along, and to my surprise, i even joined in, geeing myself along as we approached the finish line. “That’s it – just a few more steps to go – YES!”
After that, I started thinking of the wheelbarrow whenever the trainers told us to do something out of my comfort zone (which was most of it, of course). I’d done the wheelbarrow – I could do this.
I’m still thinking about the wheelbarrow.
So far in January I’ve started a twenty-minute-per-day writing habit, which I do in two ten-minute chunks – it gives me the chance to make each chunk about something different.
As the month has progressed, I’ve changed one of those ten-minute chunks into a ten-minute sketching period; I found myself wanting to claim back some of my drawing skill from over a decade ago. And god, were those initial attempts at reclaiming my old abilities shit. I mean, I was disappointed in them in a way I don’t think I’ve ever felt about my writing (at least not in a while).
(I reckon that’s why I’ve left the idea of writing a novel behind – I just don’t care about writing that much fiction, not even short stories.)
Yet I keep going with it, and I’m making progress. Is it publish-ready? I don’t know – well, it’s been enough to make myself a Bitstrip-style single frame comic and an image for one of my earlier web log posts, but perhaps not quite enough to do an actual comic strip yet.
What’s great is that sense of growth, that recognised change.
Doing the bitstrip had me searching the web for guides on inking and colouring web comics with GIMP, and I found one very helpful tutorial that stepped me through using layers to get the colouring right. Each new step looked too tough, too complex, too time-consuming, at first.
Then I remembered the wheelbarrow, and thought that while this first attempt mightn’t be a success, I need to make the mistakes I’m going to make so I can learn and then, with practice and other exercises – sketching of other things, developing skill with faces, poses, etcetera – I will reach the level of quality I’m aiming for.
What about you?
What activity did you notice yourself improving in? How does it motivate you to keep going with what you’re doing now?
To Catherine Coombs, my accountability buddy, for requesting this article.
Actin Fitness, my boot camp hosts.
Why You Need an Accountabilibuddy (And How to Get One), from Cordelia Calls It Quits
Featured image by Brian Gregg.