I have always envied the people who seemed to “get it right” the first time, whatever it was.
I always wished I could be one of those people.
I remember learning multiplication in third grade. Everyone seemed to get their multiplication tables faster than I. God knows kids got the hang of driving a car faster than I. Oh, and being able to sing, and learn how to tap a Time Step, and how to type, play Chopin, and learn Hebrew (Lord in your Mercy, that was hard), and figure out how to Relevé en point, and write a good paper, and run, and work a sewing machine (gave up on that one) and read (and understand) Karl Barth, and the list goes on…..
I assumed, as I looked over the proverbial fence, that everyone was catching on faster than I. I assumed that because I had to work at it, revise it, redo it, and struggle with it, that I wasn’t good at it.. and therefore that I was less than.
I also assumed that it was a race to catch on – that somehow the kids that caught on before I did were smarter than I, and that I was smarter than the one or two kids that were still figuring it out after me. This of course, is untrue.
I have never been a person who has gotten it right the first time, and I think in truth none of us are. We live in a world that values the finished product: the winner of the violin contest, the art on display in the museum, the performance on stage, the published book. What we don’t see, nor can we fully appreciate, are the hours of practice, discipline, drafts, and retakes it requires to get it right. Furthermore, is it ever really right? There is always one more word choice, one more touch up.
If it is true art, even finished products are never finished.
My oldest daughter is about to start high school, and let’s just say I’m an emotional basket case over this. A. I’m too young to have a high school student. B. That went WAY too fast. C. High School is when everything starts “counting.” D. What if she doesn’t get it right? E. What if we don’t get it right? Slow down there, sister. High school is but a heartbeat in the scheme of life.
Here is the thing: life is not about getting it right the first, fifth, or 100th time. Life is about the practice of living. It is the exploration of the self. There is no right. There is only the practice of living.
What we practice at, whether it be the practice of being a good parent, a good friend, a good leader, a good student, a good athlete, a good citizen, these are things that shape our lives and make us who we are, but we never get them right. We just keep at them, shaping them revising, breaking them down and starting over, working at them until we…. well that’s it isn’t it? There is no end to the practice of life, until there is no life.
Our vision of what it means to achieve, excel, or accomplish is far too short-sighted. We need to take the longer view and change our expectations of ourselves and others. Everyone is working on and practicing living life. What if we acknowledged that in each other? What if we valued the work in progress, instead of the final product?
What if we could see that each of us are ultimately a living piece of art?