Playing the long game

When I want it right now

It’s often said that I’m part of the ‘Instant Gratification’ generation. I think that’s largely true. Between microwaves, smartphones, Amazon Prime, and a dozen other things that come to me immediately, I have noticed a tendency to want things ‘right now’.

One of the most impactful videos I have watched is this one: The Long Game Part 1. It’s a video about artists and how many of their greatest pieces didn’t come until they were in their later years, but it was in the intervening years that the pieces of what eventually converged into a masterpiece were made.

As I thought about it, my entire childhood was practicing the long game, though I wouldn’t have realized it then. I achieved some level of mastery in a few hobbies and somehow I started attributing it to just being really smart and talented, not to practicing diligently and with good techniques over 8–10 years.

In many ways as an adult I had stopped playing the long game. I hadn’t tried to pick up any skills or solve any problem that didn’t already build on ones I had built in childhood. So recently, when I tried something like my new foray into watercoloring and hand lettering, I found myself getting frustrated that I’m not like my Instagram feed. It’s not that you need 10,000 hours to master something, which is sort of a myth, but practicing smarter still takes consistent work over time.

Realizing all that means that yeah — my watercoloring right now looks like a 5 year old can do it. But starting at 25 with 3 hours a week, by the age of 35 I’ll have accumulated ~1,500 hours of practice. I have no idea what level I’ll be at then, but if I don’t play the long game consistently, I’ll never hit any level at all.

Don’t despair if you’re not 25 like me and you feel like time is not on your side. I’ve been inspired to pick these new things up by people I’ve met who have started something new at the age of 70 — the long game still applies! If you live to 90 that’s still 20 years! If you don’t, you still got to do what you wanted to try.

Don’t give up. Play the long game. It is long, but it also makes things possible.

Disclaimer: You still have to be realistic about this — no amount of practicing smarter or number of hours is going to counteract absolute realities like being 4'10". I will never be able to play some of Rachmaninoff’s chords. 😭

Ashley Crutcher is a Digital Designer at InterVarsity located in Madison, WI. She tweets at @ashleyspixels and enjoys cuddling with her cat, crocheting, working out, and thinking too much about everything.

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