Jeremy Côté


Improvement is Not a Race

In a race, there can be a winner and a bunch of losers. This is because of one simple fact: everyone starts at the same line, at the same time.

There aren’t any runners who get some special advantage and get to run less distance. That would be ridiculous, and would ruin the whole notion of competition and comparison. In a race, everyone begins on equal ground, at the same time.

The problem is, a race isn’t like life.

None of us start our journey at the same point, yet we always compare ourselves as if we did. When we are beginners, do we look to other beginners for comparison to see how we’re doing? Of course not. We look to the masters who have been doing great things in their craft for years. It’s only natural. They are the best, and so they are some of the most inspiring for those of us who want to do great things as well.

But if we aren’t careful, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. By comparing ourselves to the masters when we are at the very beginning of our journey, we create a sense of disappointment in our own work. After all, what we’re doing isn’t nearly as impressive as what the masters are doing. Because of this, we run the risk of abandoning our journey prematurely, before we can begin to see results.

What we’re missing is that the masters were once just like us. Think about that for a moment. The people you look up to had the exact same struggles as you had in terms of doing work they were proud of.

“But wait,” you say. “Surely they must have had some advantage, since they are masters and I feel like I can’t keep on producing this weak work!”

And guess what, you’re right. The one difference between them and you is that they chose to stay, to keep at it. That’s it. They knew their work wasn’t as good as they envisioned, but that didn’t kill their motivation. Instead, it bolstered their drive to work even harder to improve on their craft. They put in the work, and through the accumulation of a lot of practice, they got to where they are today.

What’s fantastic is that you can do the same thing. All it takes is a willingness to do the work needed of you every day, and commit to long-term improvement. When you realize that excellence in your craft is not a race to “finish” first but a process that everyone begins at a different time and place, you can appreciate that the main characteristic that differentiates those who are deemed “masters” and those who are not is time.

Make no mistake, “good” practice that uses progressions is vital, too. But the thing that generally separates people from being masters and novices is the time that’s spent in the craft. Practice more, and chances are strong that you will get better. It’s almost guaranteed.

From this, we can begin to mentally distinguish our craft from a race. We don’t need to constantly compare ourselves to the top of our field because we feel as if we should be producing work comparable to them. Put in five, ten years, and then you may begin thinking about that.

A more appropriate comparison would be with people who are near the same time in the craft and skill level as you. However, your time would be better spent producing more work, so you should try and limit comparing yourself to others.

In the end, we must realize that once we get into a craft, it is not as if we have jumped into a race late, and have to make up ground. Instead, we have to acknowledge that we are on our own journey, and that comparing our journey to others will usually result in disappointment, since the comparison isn’t fair in the first place.

If we want to be good at our craft, nothing beats committing to the long-game and putting a lot of good work in, regardless of how it compares to the masters.