17: From amateur to expert.

- December 18, 2016 -

There’s a very peculiar sort of phenomenon which takes place whenever we start working towards something new, attempting to bridge the gap between amateur and expert.

For the first little while, every encounter with this new pursuit has us making leaps and bounds of progress. When you first, say, start going to the gym, you can very clearly see that the effort you put into it is leading to some tangible benefit.

During those first few weeks, when you’re just starting to incorporate a bit of exercise into your life, you can feel the intensity of the drain on your body, the intentionality with which you must push yourself to get through even just a few basic workouts. Your entire body aches, and you have no trouble recognizing that, yes, you made progress that day.

Eventually, however, you reach a point where that simply isn’t the case anymore. As time goes on, the workouts start to become easier, the pain is no longer as noticeable, and the changes to your body are no longer as drastic.

Even though, by that point, you’re technically doing far more than you once were — not to mention doing it better and more efficiently — it starts to feel as though you’re really doing less.

It’s strange, isn’t it?

. . .

We, of course, expect that the opposite will be true. We expect that the longer we do something, the better we’ll get at it, and, as a result, the more often we’ll be able to witness the benefits of our efforts. Much of the time, though, this simply isn’t the case.

.. And that, I think, is precisely what makes the transition from being an amateur to becoming an expert so difficult: the longer we do something, the more distanced we become from the momentum of those early successes, from that direct, positive reinforcement which once did so much to propel us forward.

When that happens, we tend to get discouraged because it seems as though we’re no longer making any progress. In reality, though, we are still making progress — it’s just not as noticeable because of how far we’ve already advanced.

I can’t help but wonder, then, if perhaps these moments of second-guessing our abilities, of feeling dissatisfied with our progress are precisely what we’re supposed to experience once we reach that stage.

Maybe, just maybe, that plateau of feedback and positive reinforcement is the final hurdle, the final test to determine whether or not we’re truly ready to make the leap from amateur to expert.

After all, anybody can start something. That’s no great achievement. The real challenge, the real work lies in sticking with it, in not getting discouraged along the way, in remaining committed to our commitments even when it seems so much easier to simply move on and start something new.


With our last letter of 2016,
– J


This piece comes from Jana Marie’s newsletter, The Sunday Letters. You can sign up to receive future editions below.