Thursday, August 15, 2019

#runninglifelessons: Practice Over Mastery

I think I'll call these little life lessons learned while running Running Life Lessons. Even better, #runninglifelessons for a bit of cheesy hashtag absurdity. Very creative stuff, I know.

This week's anecdote is something that's struck me over and over in life, and a lesson I fail to really grab on to. It just slips away and getting through takes over. It's particularly evident in running, but just as true everywhere else, I think.

Practice Over Mastery (And Over Surviving)

I recently sat down to start writing out a training plan for the Jacksonville Marathon. Jacksonville is going to be my next (and hopefully last) attempt to run a marathon in under 3 hours. 3 hours will be fast for me, fast for many people, and completely and entirely pedestrian relative to the true fast people...a topic for another time.

Anyway, as I began to write the plan out, it struck me that this plan really wasn't all that different than my last race plan nor the one before or any other. It was made up of the same pieces basically put together in the same order. Run six days a week, maybe some doubles, a total of about nine training bouts per week. One of those runs is hard and fast intervals, often at a track. Another is run at a tempo around my target race pace or a bit faster. One is a long 35KM run. Everything else is just some jogging around with some strides here or there, maybe a few hills sprints. But just running.

It's the same structure I used for my first marathon, for the Boston marathon, for the Georgia Death Race, for Never Summer. Little things were tweaked here or there, maybe some extra hill work or stairs, but really the same thing.

It's practice. Every day, every week, every month; practicing the same things. Practicing pace, practicing being comfortable with discomfort, practicing the discipline of lacing up the shoes and walking out there door each day. There's no mastery involved. There's no "Hey, I've figured this out!" moment. Just more and more practice to hopefully be a bit better than yesterday.

And I think that's true everywhere. I know there's no mastering my profession. I know this, yet have a habit of pursuing and hoping for mastery, or worse, thinking I've kind of attained it. I haven't, not by a long shot. Instead, each work day should be viewed as another day to practice that profession, to get just a bit better than previously. Each day should include a deliberate goal to improve something, not just to show up and do the job, not just to make it through another day, not to determine I've figured it all out and now get to coast along happily meandering toward retirement.

And it's true personally. Instead of surviving everything that life throws my way, but actually trying to get a bit better at life each day.

And it's small, micro-improvements. In running, you don't even notice them. Today's run feels a lot like yesterday's run which feels not all that different than the run three months ago. Then, one day you just try running a bit faster than you did before or a bit farther or something a bit more challenging (12,000 feet high in the mountains, perhaps!), and you can do it and it's not too bad and you have improved and the practice has paid off. Professionally, you don't even have a race or a pace to test yourself. You just notice one day that ideas flow more easily or you communicate a bit more clearly or dots connect that didn't used to. In life, I don't think there's any benchmark at all, just faith that a little improvement is a good thing.

Screw mastery. Just keep practicing, in whatever it is you're doing. The challenge for me is remembering this lesson and then practicing practicing. I'll keep practicing.

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