“Geology is the study of time and pressure. That’s all it takes really…pressure…and time…That, and a big goddamn poster.”
-Red, Shawshank Redemption
There are some skills in this world that take an immense effort to master. Learning a musical instrument is certainly one of them. I see it everyday with my piano students. They start off with it being easy. At some point, they hit a wall where it gets hard and the struggle begins. I do my best to be encouraging, to let them know that the struggle is part of the process, that I am there to help them through it, and that there is another side of accomplishment if they persevere. Voice is a little bit different in that voice students have already been using their voice to speak and sing, but even there, the process of changing habits is so gradual and incremental that they often get caught in the struggle of it.
I could make some cliche comment about living in a world of immediate gratification where we no longer value working for things. There’s certainly some truth to that, but we also live in a society that is increasingly valuing artisanal efforts built on dedication and training. Hand crafted, hand sewn, home brewed, self-created. Immediate gratification has given way to pursuing passions. I often think about how to explain the sisyphean effort to my students in a way that is inspiring and supportive rather than daunting.
It comes down to, what you do is what you get good at. If you play video games all the time, you get better at video games. If you sing all the time, you get better at singing. There’s more to it than that, clearly; a quality of attention and pursuit of new skills in the time and effort expended. But it really is about time and pressure.
I think of it like Tetris. You play Tetris long enough, and you start to close your eyes and see Tetris. You dream Tetris. Your world becomes Tetris. And much like Tetris, it’s all about stacking. Place one good piece. That’s the job for today. Just one. Find one thing to work on, one thing to get better at, one way to get closer to the goal. And tomorrow, check on that piece, and add one more. Stack them up. Missing one day isn’t a problem. One bad week isn’t the end of the world. It’s when those one days regularly turn into four days, and one week turns into a month. We end up with a Tetris board riddled with holes. When the right piece finally comes along, there’s no chance for a tetris…no chance to clear four lines, to make that score when you’ve left the board a mess. So stack those days, and stack them tight. Who knows when the piece will come along that will tip all of your effort into your success.
I keep this in mind everyday as I work on my own career. Whether it’s practicing the Beethoven, working on the blog, writing a video, finding content for my facebook page…I keep stacking blocks, one well-placed block each day. I refuse to ask my students to do something I don’t do myself. What better way to inspire them than by pursuing my own dreams?