I used to be a nervous speaker. In college, I’d give a presentation in front of the class and not even remember it afterwards. I couldn’t tell you what I said, if anyone was watching me, or whether a 500-pound gorilla walked through the room during my speech.
Fast forward to grad school. After three years of Toastmasters, four years of teaching, and countless class presentations, I still got nervous, but now I was aware during my speech. The ultimate test came during graduation when I stood on a stage in front of about 400 people. I spoke for five minutes, fully in the moment the whole time.
I could see the expressions on the faces of the audience. I could hear the little shouts of encouragement. I was in control of the pace of my speech, and knew exactly how far along I was. And at the end, I remembered it all.
That was a great moment for me, but it only happened because of practice.
The other night I had a similar experience during a sparring session at Kung Fu. For years, sparring has been my biggest hurdle. I’ve seen progress, but I still struggle to find the opening in my opponent’s armor while still protecting myself.
This time, however, I was able to broaden my vision and not only block more of her attacks, but I was aware of her vulnerable spots too. Again I was struck by how long it takes to progress, and how important it is to practice.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this: writing. We all start at different levels, but no matter where you are on the path, you can’t shortcut the process. I’d like to think that every book I’ve written has been better than the last. I could no more have written my most recent MS two years ago than I could have given that graduation speech as an undergrad.
No matter what you're trying to do, there’s no shortcut to excellence. You must deliver the speeches, take the blows, and write the words.
I don’t think practice makes perfect. What is perfection anyway? But I do think practice makes better. And maybe even really great, if you work at it long enough.
I ended that graduation speech with one of my favorite quotes, and it sums up perfectly what I've been trying to say.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. —Aristotle