At the risk of sounding like a braggart, I have always been a very quick learner. Moreover, I’ve always felt that I can excel at anything into which I put my mental and physical energy. With very few exceptions in my life, that’s been true: my biggest obstacle is overcoming the fear of the initial failure. It’s a useful gift to have for someone whose interests are so varied.
But there comes a point in every training cycle where your upward progress stalls. This is called a plateau, and it can be very frustrating. It’s often the place where folks give up, because they are no longer seeing the results they once did. They might even feel like they’re going backwards. The only way through it is to keep working through it, increasing the energy you put into it until the breakthrough comes and the improvement (however that might be measured) becomes exponential. Oh how difficult it is though, when you are doing the cost/benefit analysis, to decide that your goals are worth your effort!
I have recently come to a place where I’ve arrived at a few plateaus simultaneously. For example, I love doing improv, it’s so exhilarating to jump up on stage and make a scene work with your partner. Considering that I started with no stage experience whatsoever, I’ve come a long way. But I see how amazing and talented my improv friends are, and I know I’m not at their level. I know I can get there if I work hard at it, but right now I am where I am. To get to the next level will take time and effort. Frankly, I have too much other stuff going on. I’ll still do improv, take a few classes here and there where I can fit it in, but I’ll always be a hobbyist because it is not a priority for me the way that some other things are. That feels a bit like dishonoring the craft, but I will neither leave it nor embrace it so that’s the choice I make.
The same is true for guitar. After five years, I am learning how much I still don’t know. My progress has stalled because I won’t commit the time to practice. With visual arts, I haven’t even begun. There’s a huge commitment I am not making, although if I jumped into it I’d have that initial learning curve to guide me.
On the other hand, I feel like I’m still learning and growing in my dancing. I was worried I was hitting a plateau in tango, but I stayed with it and I’m on a learning curve again. Not that I’m some great tanguero, but I feel like I’m becoming a solid lead.
Writing, of course, has remained a priority. Every time I pick up the pen I learn something about that craft. It keeps me going, seeing what else is in my head, what is next. I am still wanting to get better, to keep exploring, keep taking chances. So many times the plateau is all about the complacency of competence. You have to find the place where you fail in order to improve. It takes effort, it takes time. So this writing thing had better pan out, because that’s where I’m investing.