We all have some idealized form in our heads of the person we’re going to become. Maybe our ideal has bigger muscles than we do, or makes more money or is more respected in the industry.

Whatever it is, we aspire to be that person yet we often struggle with how to get there. We flail around trying many things, but almost all of us avoid one thing — almost as hard as we try to find many things to attempt.

If you are reading to become a better reader, you cannot read just any book or article. You will not improve as a reader if all you read are books that are well within your capacity. You must tackle books that are beyond you, or, as we have said, books that are over your head. – How to Read a Book

Just like you must read books that are over your head to become a better reader, you must do things that are hard to become better at your craft.

An athlete doesn’t go to the gym and work out with weights well within their physical limit and expect big gains in performance. They push themselves to the limits, over and over and over. The most elite athletes do this for months or years, and although they may barely see any improvement in performance, they’ll take that extra pound they can lift or those two minutes shaved off a marathon.

They don’t go for the easy life, they work hard every day.

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In Shop Class as Soulcraft, author Matthew Crawford tells the story of a senior mechanic who can just ‘hear’ a problem with an engine. Maybe it’s not the sound but perhaps a certain pattern of glazing on a part and just know what the issue is. This level of knowledge, which we all aspire to in our craft, does not come with five easy tips or rote memorization of a series of rules. It only comes with years of practice. You have to miss seeing the signs 10 or 20 or 30 times and then suddenly it dawns on you. Maybe it’s even unconscious — something in the back of your mind peaks its head up and you suddenly realize you have a solution to your problem.

The point is, it takes time to get to this state of being in any part of your life. Sure, look for rules and tips that might provide a shortcut, but expect it to take years to become awesome at your craft. Expect failure and look for ways to push your knowledge.

It is only through struggle that we grow into the people we want to become. It’s that terrible client project you delivered poorly on — the one that finally convinced you to follow everyone’s advice and find a niche. It’s that next bad project — the one that leads you to cut out entire types of work because you realize it’s not fun and not where you excel.

photo credit: lord_dane cc