Posts Tagged ‘Practice’

Last evening my wife and I attended a concert that was the culmination of a musical string camp nearby.  One of our friends had a key role in leading some of the groups, so we thought it would be fun to attend.

It was amazing seeing very young children just learning to play violins that couldn’t have been more than 14-16 inches long from one end to the other.  Seeing the stage lined with children and youth performing what they learned during the week was inspiring.  This year’s camp also included handbells, so it was equally impressive to see 31 children filling the stage playing handbells.  The harps were beautiful as only harps can be.

The performances generally went from less experienced to more experienced.  While that coincided largely with age from younger to older, that wasn’t always the case.  Some groups had a surprising age range within them.

While watching the performances, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to learning we all experience.  Those in the most advanced group who performed truly beautiful pieces last night didn’t start with that ability.  At one point they were just like those newer to their instruments.  Because they keep rehearsing, they keep getting better, and if they will continue to work hard, they will continue to improve.

The children I saw last night didn’t seem self-conscious about their ability level or the fact that they were performing in a large chapel with many people watching and cameras rolling.  They just did their best and graciously accepted the applause of the audience.

Unlike the children last night, at times I see adults in work or other settings who think they need to be nearly perfect at something before they are willing to be seen by others doing that task.  Likewise, some people seem to think they are entitled to be in that most advanced group with all the glory it brings even though they haven’t put in the time and effort to earn that right.

To quote a joke older than me, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”  The answer: “Practice, practice, practice.”

Leap year lesson #163 is You must start at the beginning.

I went running today with a purpose for the first time in years. It has been three years since I ran in a race. From my mid-40s to my early 50s I ran a number of races, mostly 5k races and a few half marathons. I was involved in college ministry at the time through my church and several of the college guys and I would commit to various races, training together and enjoying the challenge, the trips and the competition. I was the old guy – Ol’ Blue – among the college crowd just like in the movie Old School. I loved every minute of it.

Since my team of four at work decided yesterday to run in the Muddy Fanatic race on May 19, I decided I’d better start training today. Oh, my, do I have work to do!

I couldn’t begin to make it the whole route of a little over 3.5 miles without way too many 30-second walk breaks. My legs will yell at me tomorrow, no doubt. My time was atrocious compared to my last 5k race.

So what do I take away from today’s run? Does my performance mean that I should hang it up because I’m not good at that any more? Should I expect to suddenly run at a pace that I ran at years ago even though I have not trained? The answer to both questions is “no.”

Previous success does not guarantee future success at any task, especially if you fail to practice and keep your skills up to date. I knew I would have a terrible average pace per mile today, but that’s OK. Today is the benchmark. Running is always primarily a race against yourself and your best times more than it is against others – at least for me it is.

So here’s to whatever May 19 brings and the fact that my performance then will be better because of the training I put myself through over the next 5-6 weeks. Running races years ago isn’t what will make May 19 a success. It’s what I do between now and then to prepare that will make the difference.

Leap year lesson #95 is Past success does not guarantee future success.

As someone who has spoken in public countless times, I would not think of stepping up in front of a group without going through my prepared remarks or presentation several times in advance. Similarly, when I travel to a new city for the first time and choose to drive myself rather than take a cab, I usually scout out the route and parking options of my destination ahead of time.

Why? In the case of public speaking, it helps me to do my best for those I am there to serve. It allows me to rely as little as possible on notes, and to concentrate more on the content, the delivery and the people. In the case of scouting out a travel destination, it puts my mind at ease so that my focus can be on other matters when I actually reach my destination. The travel rehearsal isn’t always an option or practical, but I still do it when possible.

Having just completed the South by Southwest Interactive (SxSW) conference in Austin, TX, I can say that even though it had its share of frustrations due to size, geographical spread of venues, bad weather and transportation issues, I really hope to return. The content and variety of the sessions are incredible – second to no other conference I have ever attended. Once the weather improved and it was pleasant to walk around, I had the option to explore more and get a feel for the lay of the land. I know more about what to do and not do next time, where to stay and not stay, how to navigate between venues, what to bring and not bring, etc.

So this past week has been a SxSW rehearsal for me. I did some things just fine and flubbed others like a newbie is likely to do. But now I’m a lot better prepared for future years and I hope to take part in them for many years to come.

If you feel a bit uneasy the first time you do something, that’s normal. You’ll be experienced and equipped to do better next time.

Leap year lesson #73 is Rehearse, practice and train for the next time.

Actions we carry out repetitively become tasks we feel like we can do in our sleep. We get to a point where our bodies just seem to take control without much thought required.

Take driving a car, for example. The 16-year-old first learning to drive is intensely focused on every action while the experienced driver (for good or bad) perhaps focuses more on matters unrelated to driving.

When it comes to work, you probably have things that you know and do so easily that you don’t have to think about them much. Same goes for your hobbies or favorite pasttimes.

But what happens if you go an unusually long time without using some skill or knowledge? Chances are good that you slip a little in your ability to perform. The same is true for those tasks that you only need to do once in a great while. Dusting off the memory banks on how to use that tax software you haven’t used in a year, for example, always takes longer than we wish.

The reason leap year lesson #12 is “Use It or Lose It” ( or it could also be “Practice Makes Perfect”) is because I stunned myself at the beginning of the year when I resumed a personal spiritual discipline that I had let slide for many months. For years I have spent time regularly memorizing and reviewing the same 100 Bible verses that I want to know well. For whatever reason, though, I dropped the ball on reviewing them for most of 2011. When I started back January 1, I was shocked at how much I had forgotten!

The good news is that it takes very little time to recall to mind that which is buried in some cranial corner following the repetition of years of practice. The bad news is that I was reminded of how easy it is to let important things slide and to replace them with things of lesser significance.

While I was off chasing new adventures in learning, career, housing, etc., I failed to practice that which was more important. And because I didn’t practice or use it, I lost it – at least temporarily.

So decide what is important and then do it. And keep doing it. Use it or lose it.