Patient Practice

If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful.

— Michelangelo

A particularly pappy talk show I watched yesterday featured a segment entitled “Minute Masterclass,” prompting me to wonder: Why do so many broadcasters and web-content producers think we expect painless gain?

You know why.

They know their audience.

They know we would rather hire an SAT-taker than study; rather play Powerball than save; rather have another bypass than exercise.

They know we would all be masters—provided we can spare a minute.

But mastery is a goal reached by a very few, never without effort, and never within a minute.

More like a lifetime—a lifetime of patient practice.

Patient practice, teachers know, is in fact the only path to mastery.

Patient practice is daunting: progress is molasses-slow; the plateaus feel interminable; and competence seems out of reach. Worst of all, payoffs are few. That’s why so many eventually quit the path—and why there are so few masters.

Patient practice is all.

“Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water,” the painter Wu Li said. “After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.”

Above: David’s Lips. Oil on canvas. 18 x 24 inches. A traditional student exercise assigned by my teacher Randall Graham. The tonal painting required 13 hours to complete. “Trust the process,” is his favorite expression.