Learning a new skill is often inspiring because early improvements come in leaps and bounds. Going from zero to some level of competency may take some work, but the rewards of that initial investment often come relatively quickly. It’s not so much picking up the basics that is usually challenging so much as getting to a level of fluency and mastery, whatever that looks like to us. Those early big steps become smaller and shorter, each one harder won while simultaneously less of a jump over our previous accomplishments.
Getting started is important. Becoming even a beginner is a win worthy of pride, because so many people think about taking on something new but never actually jump into it. We’ve all seen it: the proto-newbie who is waiting until they are in better shape to start a sport, until an introductory class fits perfectly and conveniently into their schedules, until they are feeling motivated to pick up a first project for the first time. Getting to and through day one is tough all on its own, and something to appreciate all by itself. It can be enough, right there.
Putting in what it takes to become familiar with this new pursuit is rewarding as it takes you from someone who has touched on a topic to someone who is conversant in it, who can call on that skill when wanted or needed, who has begun to make a home in it. It’s the jump from picking up your first gun to being able to safely draw from holster and hit inside an eight-inch circle at five yards, on demand, with confidence. You’ll need to do more than show up, but noob gains are a thing as long as you put forth the effort to learn the fundamentals of the area you’re exploring. You’ll need to invest energy and time into picking up that core knowledge that makes you more than a tourist, but you’ll likely barely feel it as part of your initial excitement of the deep dive.
If you decide, though, that you want to chase more, you will need to invest more and more for less and less. As you shift from the new person flailing around nearly completely lost to the regular participant who knows where everything is to the veteran who understand everything that’s going on, you’ll spend more and more time in the middle between each group. You’ll need to remember to keep your eye on the ultimate goal, because you might no longer have intermediate goals that are easy to see and meet. Instead, there might be no pause point to appreciate between point A and point B, just a slog from one to the other.
Grinding can get frustrating. As a competitive shooter in a discipline where speed is king and microseconds can be the difference between first and second place, I used to say that shaving seconds off required some attention, tenths required some sweat, but hundredths required blood and tears. It’s one thing to spend a few hours or days carving back some time and getting a bit better. It’s another entirely to spend weeks, months, years to find the next tiny bit of better. When it takes that much to level up, we have to dig deep for that dedication to keep on going even when it feels like we’re not getting anywhere.
The incremental improvement we achieve when we grind is difficult to appreciate. Progress is slow and when it takes so long to happen, it’s hard to tell if there’s any at all. We might, in a month, only find ourselves moving from early-early intermediate to early-ish intermediate. It may be an uneven progress, perhaps being able to squat a little deeper but not any heavier, or simply feeling more comfortable with the tools of our new crafty hobby but being able to do no more with them than we could six weeks ago. Without an outside view that only sees the beginning and the end of that sequence, we might not even be able to tell where we have moved on that gradient from beginner to advanced.
When you can’t see your goals anymore, and think you aren’t closing in on them at even a snail’s pace, I propose that you stick with the concept of working towards being one percent better every day, and letting that be its own destination. Instead of worrying about become an expert, strive to become a little bit better than you were before. Instead of worrying about whether the grind gets you anywhere worthwhile, allow the fact that you are grinding be a goal in itself, and trust that the process of working will eventually get you where you want to be.
It’s true that it takes the right sort of work for that improvement to come, that you need to push out of your comfort zone and not just repeat the same thing over and over. But if you do? If you get one percent, one tenth of a percent, one hundredth of a percent better every day? It won’t feel like a whole lot, I know, but it will become a lot if you take a snapshot today and compare it to a snapshot half a year from now.