As I wrote in a previous post, last week I had my car stolen. My car was finally recovered on Monday. The whole process was incredibly exhausting and overwhelming – although I did receive some twisted pleasure from my torn apart car (I could tell that the frustrated thief had clearly discovered that he’d risked jail time for access to pennies and years-old foodstuffs under my car seats). My mechanic discovered a bunch of problems with the car – it’s likely that some are the result of the theft, while others are merely a byproduct of the car having 200K miles on it. Because I don’t want to invest an insurance deductible’s worth of money into my current car, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will keep working until I scrounge up the money to get a slightly newer car.
The most frustrating part dealing with the theft was that it disrupted several professional projects. However, now that the dust is starting to settle, I’m realizing that this experience helped me to gain maturity, clarity, and – strangely enough – happiness. After I finished my “different hats roll call” series before the theft, I still felt unsure about how to integrate all of my diverse interests. I knew that I wanted to focus on bass and music (particularly U.S. music) as areas of expertise, but wasn’t sure about the meta-level of my foci. I wanted to figure out an area of focus that was applicable not just to non-bassists, but to non-musicians.
One of my common writing topics has been practice. As I was dealing with the aftermath of the theft, I realized that there is a practice of adulthood. While I felt like earning a Ph.D. was truly a rite-of-passage that ushered me into adulthood, the car theft left me feeling completely overwhelmed and underprepared. In this context, adulthood seemed like a constant process of problem solving, of becoming better prepared, and of sticking to your goals in the face of catastrophes. You don’t automatically become an adult by finishing school, getting married, or having children – it’s something you have to constantly work at and improve upon.
I started thinking about the role of practice (or, as in my case, multiple forms of practice) in people’s lives. I take serious issue with the phrase, “Practice makes perfect” (or its musical iteration: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice”). To me, this implies that practice is something done by only a select, dedicated few with one narrow area of focus and the end-goal of perfection (never mind that such perfection is impossible). And yes, this is basically a variation of my “Versatility, Not Virtuosity” talk/post.
To me, practice means getting better in ways that are meaningful to you, and with activities that you enjoy and value. Practice is about self-development and improvement, not about pursuing some toxic notion of perfectionism.
I’ve decided that this meta-level of professional focus will be practice. While I am currently developing a workshop on practicing bass, I am interested in different types of practice (creative practice, writing practice, movement practice, spiritual practice, etc.) I want to research, teach, and write about the benefits of and best practices in practice. I want to help people develop their own, varied practices routines (including multiple forms of practice, as part of career design and everyday life). In order to help people make time for these practices, I also need to be versed in organization, simplicity, and other areas of personal development.
While I’m not sure what form my work on practice will take, I know what my primary argument is: practice doesn’t make perfect; it makes practitioners – and their individual lives – better.