One of the things Malcolm Gladwell discovered after researching outstanding achievers for his book Outliers is, “What we call talent is really the desire to practice.” He’s not the first person to point that out.

Three years ago, Tiger Woods told the audience of 60 Minutes that he’d been working with a coach to change his game and hadn’t mastered it yet, but said, “I am willing to lose in order to get better.” Then there’s my all-time favorite observation from Mick Jagger who said, “You’ve got to sing everyday so you can build up to being like, you know, absolutely brilliant.”

The willingness to sing every day in order to get better is as important to entrepreneurial success as it is to selling out concerts or winning golf trophies. Yet many adults recoil at the thought of practice, thinking that it leads to boredom. That’s only true if what we’re practicing doesn’t come from our passion.

What may also not be obvious is that we’re all practicing daily and whatever we practice most is what we master. We can excel at stinginess or generosity, originality or mediocrity, boredom or adventure. It’s just a matter of where we’re putting in our time and effort.

I’ve been thinking about the power of repetition since many of the people who ordered copies of the updated

Making a Living Without a Job
had already read the original version. I decided to send an advance reading copy to Sandy Dempsey, who I knew was intimately acquainted with the book, to see what she thought. She sent an e-mail after she’d read about 50 pages raving about the changes. Then she wrote this review in her
Dreaming Cafe mailing.

I’ve had a sneak peak at the newly revised Making a Living Without a Job: Winning Ways for Creating Work That You Love by Barbara Winter and it is going to knock your socks off. I am blown away and even though I have read the original numerous times, the new edition has so many new stories, ideas and resources to inspire, my head is spinning.

I even thought about sending a copy to the President. He could use it as a blueprint to empower and inspire the nation – a nation that was founded on the entrepreneurial spirit.

In reality this book should be mandatory reading in every high school and college and every adult education program This book could change your life!!

Needless to say, Sandy’s review knocked my socks off and I was immensely grateful.

I also realize, of course, that someone who reads this book before they begin their joyfully jobless journey will notice very different things than they would a year or two after opening their business. To paraphrase Clifton Fadiman, “When you reread a book and find more in it it’s not because there’s more in the book. It’s because there’s more in you.”

While we’ve all heard that practice makes perfect, that’s not quite true. Practice makes permanent, but we can only get better if we’re paying attention while we do it. Then we begin to notice where our practice is leading us. We discover only weeks after starting a yoga practice that we can turn our heads farther when backing up the car. Or we find that our fifth media interview is smoother than our first. Sometimes we see that we’re farther along than we thought and sometimes it shows us we need to practice more diligently.

Are you willing?

My brother Jim lives in California and is an avid surfer. He’s also 62 years old. One day we were talking on the phone and he said,  “I was driving to the beach yesterday morning and it was still dark. I was thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’”

“You’re doing it so you can have a lively old age,” I suggested. 

He laughed and said, “You know I surf  better now than I did thirty years ago.” I pointed out that he’d also been disciplined about keeping at it. “I still love it,” he said, then added, “You’ve got to ride more waves. It all goes in the bank.”

So what do you want to be better at doing thirty (or ten) years from now? Whatever your answer is, the time to start working on it is right now. In his wonderful little book, Mastery, George Leonard says, “We tend to assume that mastery requires a special ticket available only to those born with exceptional abilities. But mastery isn’t reserved for the supertalented or even those who are fortunate enough to have gotten an early start. It’s available to  anyone who is willing to get on the path and stay on it—regardless of age, sex or previous experience.”

We live in a time of instant results and instant gratification—not a culture that’s conducive to taking on a project and sticking with it for years. This quick results attitude aborts many wonderful ideas. Kids seem to understand the power of practice better than their elders. After all, they’re learning everything from the ground up, but oo many adults are not as willing to invest the time and effort. What a shame. Practice has other rewards besides ultimate mastery.

Recently I wrote about John Higgins, the reluctant Compelling Storytelling attendee, and I mentioned that he’d begun a daily writing practice. Here’s what he wrote to me after I pointed that out.

Thank you for writing that I had started a “writing practice.”  I had not thought of writing as I do my work with visually  impaired people as “a practice”  and now I do which gives makes it a bigger priority and much more real in my mind. 

A practice. A writing practice. A daily commitment to the discipline of writing. 

I have always loved how “practice” means too that we never stop learning and never have all the answers but we continue to practice our skills. 

I take it one step further and remind myself to practice the process and not perfection.  This keeps me from freezing up and resisting out of fear of failure because I learned that if I could not do something perfectly I would not do it at all.  Took me years to become aware I was a perfectionist that way. 

So, I practice. And, I have a writing practice. 

Damn, I like the sound of that!

 My first teacher told me, “You only have to practice on the days that you eat.” ~ Hilary Hahn


One of the nice bonuses of living in Las Vegas is reading Steven Kalas’ Human Matters column in the Sunday paper. Today’s piece is called Those Pursuing a Calling Serve as Inspiration to Others. Take a look for yourself.