Practice makes perfect

Something I think we learn as children but perhaps many of us lose with age, is the art of practicing. When we’re young we don’t know all that much or have that many innate skills. So as we learn new things, we’re encouraged to put them into practice, and practice to improve our abilities. I played several musical instruments growing up and always had to set aside practice time….or if I didn’t then I’d be cramming it in at the last minute before a lesson! I also played netball. I’m no natural athlete, but I became a first choice attacking player for my school because of a lot of hard work and practice – I just never missed the net.

smoky eye makeupWhy am I telling you this? Well I was reminded recently of something my younger sister said to me a year or so ago which has stayed not only with me, but also one of my best friends. I’ve always bemoaned the fact that I could never perfect the ‘smokey eye’ look with my makeup (I know this sounds shallow but stick with me folks). No matter what I tried with various different eyeliners, I just ended up looking like a clown. So I simply gave up trying, but wished all the time I could do it. One day I made this comment to my younger sister as she put on her makeup, complete with the perfect eyeliner. And I asked her ‘how come you can do it?’ To which she replied with the ultimate simplicity: ‘I practiced’.

jockey falling off horseI kid you not it was like a smack in the face. She just practiced! She simply refused to give up and kept going until she mastered the technique! My sister rides race horses for a living so she is used to (quite literally) having to pick herself up off the floor and dust herself off the face of adversity. If a horse throws her off, there’s no question. She has to get back on and keep going.

By contrast, I’ve been doing what I do professionally for a number of years now and know the ropes. Yes I’m learning all the time but I don’t come up against real adversity that often, certainly not physical challenges. My brain is very used to learning new things, but my body is less used to it. So while I’ve become a part-time runner over the years and have had to practice at that, I never gave myself the option of whether or not to practice and get better at it. I entered a race and that was that – nothing about running was optional! But with a dexterous skill – like applying the perfect eyeliner – I had a choice, and I simply chose to miss out rather than even try and learn.

It seems that as I’ve got older, I sort of just *expect* to be able to do things. If I can’t, then I can walk away and find something else to do instead. And I bet I’m not alone. Whereas  my sister, and certainly my brother take a much more realistic view of the world and understand that it’s worth practicing to improve  your skills. My brother is dyslexic and dyspraxic and has spent his entire life *having* to practice to get anywhere with most things. A good example is learning to drive.

learner driverMy brother passed his driving test on his seventh attempt. His learning difficulties mean he doesn’t have good co-ordination skills so it took him a long time to a) learn to drive and b) have the confidence to pass his test. By contrast, two of my cousins of a similar age to my brother who are very clever (one has a doctorate in maths) both started learning to drive at the same time…found something difficult for almost the first time in their lives…and quit. They’re all now nearing 30 and my cousins still can’t drive, yet my brother’s perseverance and ability to apply himself to something he found challenging mean he is mobile.

When I was at my best friend’s the other week, we were discussing make up (as girls do) and she reminded me of what my sister had said to me about practicing eyeliner. She had been in the same boat as me, wanting to be able to do it but having failed early on, stopped trying. She said my sisters words had ‘stayed with her’ and encouraged her to practice and perfect her technique. It reminded me of the importance of practicing and perseverance. And I think there’s something for everyone in that makeup lesson that’s a lot more than just skin deep.

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About kategraham23

Start-up founder, writer, connector, librarian's daughter. Interested in learning, HR, technology, online, media, marketing, fashion and cricket. Not always in that order. The views expressed here are solely my own and do not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the company I work for currently, or those I've worked for in the past.
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5 Responses to Practice makes perfect

  1. Lesley says:

    I absolutely agree. I also find it strange that some skills we retain without practising and others we loose relatively quickly. I can still ride a bike and even ride ‘no hands’ although I hardly ever cycle now, I haven’t lost that skill. On the other hand, I used to play the guitar a lot when I was in my teens and early 20’s. I spent hours practising; I also played in group and we practised together all the time whether or not we had a ‘gig’ lined up. Whilst I still remember all the chords and play for my own pleasure now and again, however because I have lost lots of the techniques I used to know, its not as much fun anymore…its hard work so I like you, I find something else to do.

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  2. A problem we have in workplace learning is that we don’t create opportunities for practice. Say a new manager is confronted with a sickness absence issue – can they use this staff member as a practice? The expectation is that they do it well, irrespective of their experience in the area of work. The attitude towards staff members is the same; if a staff member doesn’t achieve, we don’t build time in to practice.

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  3. Another great post, Kate. This is something I’ve been thinking about recently as well, actually, since starting my Greek lessons. Our group of around 15 is very diverse – I think we include about five or six different nationalities and range from people who’ve never learnt a foreign language to others like me who have degrees in foreign languages. Inevitably, we’ve all progressed at different rates and some of us have found it easier than others. I’m sure that some of this is to do with our backgrounds, but for me the biggest factor is hard work and practice. Most people in the class never complete the homework set for us, and (despite many of us having partners who are fluent in Greek) don’t make the effort to practise at home. I know I could do much more of this – I should probably insist my boyfriend speak Greek to me much more than he does – but I do always take the time to study my notes, complete the homework and often do additional exercise from the workbook. There have been a couple of weeks when I’ve just been too busy and haven’t been able to do all this, and I’ve definitely noticed that I’ve struggled more in the next class. Practice and perseverance might not always make perfect, but they definitely help!

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  4. kategraham23 says:

    Thanks for the comments. I think it’s often the case that as adults we’re scared of failure so if something’s hard we steer away from it in case we’re not good at it. Like Andrew and Stephanie say, we need time if we are to practice and develop skills and that’s not something we’re always allowed in the workplace.

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  5. Kim says:

    Hi Kate, I’ve finally caught up with your blog and the concept of practice makes perfect has really struck a chord with me. Due to minor but disruptive health issues at a young age I wasn’t able to learn how to swim so, between the ages of 16 and 18, I taught myself. I found it incredibly difficult but, as I practised, I got stronger and stronger, resulting in my being able to swim a mile each morning – albeit only breaststroke but it’s a skill I really value and admittedly, must practise more!.

    Then, 18 months ago, I wanted to learn something new and so I took up rollerblading. I wrote about the similarities between learning a new skill and e-learning in a blog for Saffron (http://www.saffroninteractive.com/e-learning-on-wheels/) – you might find some parallels between my experience and your thoughts on practice.

    I agree with your points about having a choice (and often choosing not to practice which, for me, lead and still leads to feelings of guilt!) and expecting to be able to do things nowadays, just because we’re older and supposedly more adept. It’s good to remind ourselves every now and again that we should still challenge ourselves to learn new things or to practice ‘old’ things – and, like you and others point out, to make time for this. How many of us wish we would pick up an old musical instrument, play a previously loved sport, take better photos or write a book? I’m about to make some resolutions for 2012 and a few of them will involve practice!

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