“I remember making a frustrated grimace and putting down my bow. The elderly Mr. Withers leaned over me and whispered, ‘What? You’ve been practicing it for three minutes, and you still can’t play it? Our practices will take a good deal more than three minutes to master.’” –The Art of Possibility
When I was in high school, I had a coach, coach Nimphius, who I had worked with both in football and track & field. One of the thoughtful things that coach Nimphius did for his track athletes, was he would write each of his athletes a handwritten letter at the end of the season. I don’t remember everything in the letter I received my first year, but I remember it opened with “Rome was not built in one day.” He must have seen the work I was putting in and also noticed the frustration I had that I was not getting the results that some of our older teammates were.
It turns out this would be a lessons I would need to relearn, and impart, many times throughout my life.
A number of years ago I visited Iceland and Norway with a few friends. When we were in Norway we had taken a train ride through the mountains to a small town called Flam. Flam was surrounded by steep cliffs overlooking the Fjords, with what seemed like hundreds of waterfalls coming off these snow-capped cliffs that May. We took a hike one day, and had stopped to rest on a plateau which had a waterfall roaring by, which I decided was a great place to take a nap. Upon waking, and temporarily forgetting where I was, I was stunned by the scenery. Then a thought came to mind, “this might be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen….this is the result of literally thousands of years of consistent persistent effort of a block of ice slowly carving through the mountains.” I thought, anything I do that will have a fraction of this beauty will require the same consistent persistent effort.
I wish this lesson had stuck. Just last week, when following a calisthenic routine called Planche Pro, my training partner noticed frustration on my face when I was not hitting the reps the program called for. She said to me, as I have said to her many times, trust the process & stay the course; the results will come. I thought to myself, I need to revisit the letter from Coach Somner to Tim Ferriss that Tim read on his podcast when explaining the frustration he was having with the plateaus he experienced in gymnastics. Here it is:
“Dealing with the temporary frustration of not making progress is an integral part of the path towards excellence. In fact, it is essential and something that every single elite athlete has had to learn to deal with. If the pursuit of excellence was easy, everyone would do it. In fact, this impatience in dealing with frustration is the primary reason that most people fail to achieve their goals. Unreasonable expectations time-wise, resulting in unnecessary frustration, due to a perceived feeling of failure. Achieving the extraordinary is not a linear process.
The secret is to show up, do the work, and go home.
A blue collar work ethic married to indomitable will. It is literally that simple. Nothing interferes. Nothing can sway you from your purpose. Once the decision is made, simply refuse to budge.
Refuse to compromise.
And accept that quality long-term results require quality long-term focus. No emotion. No drama. No beating yourself up over small bumps in the road. Learn to enjoy and appreciate the process. This is especially important because you are going to spend far more time on the actual journey than with those all too brief moments of triumph at the end.
Certainly celebrate the moments of triumph when they occur. More importantly, learn from defeats when they happen. In fact, if you are not encountering defeat on a fairly regular basis, you are not trying hard enough. And absolutely refuse to accept less than your best.
Throw out a timeline. It will take what it takes.
If the commitment is to a long-term goal and not to a series of smaller intermediate goals, then only one decision needs to be made and adhered to. Clear, simple, straightforward. Much easier to maintain than having to make small decision after small decision to stay the course when dealing with each step along the way. This provides far too many opportunities to inadvertently drift from your chosen goal. The single decision is one of the most powerful tools in the toolbox.”
As it turns out this is not just a struggle in the physical arena. In a moment of serendipity, after outlining this post, last night when I was walking out of the office with a new teammate of mine, he expressed how he simply wished he was better at his job already and making a bigger impact. I assured him that he was doing a great job for where he was. Really, what he needed to hear, was along the lines of the quote I opened with. Being on the job for 3 months, do you expect to be performing at the same level as someone who has been there for 1-2 years? What he, what I, what probably all of us need to keep in mind, is that Rome was not built in one day; stay the course, trust the process, and persistent & consistent effort you will get there. Show up, do the work, go home.
Waterfall by Aziz Muttaqin from the Noun Project