The Power of Practice

Along with the book “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, I’ve purchased “The Book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musashi. Miyamoto Musashi is a famous samurai, was born in 1584 and died in 1645. He is recognized as a prominent swordsman and an outstanding strategist at the same time. This book is his spiritual legacy. It explains the concept of “the Way of the warrior” and covers such topics as war tactics and strategy, mastery of the sword. Also he pays big attention to the spirit of a warrior during the battle and in an ordinary life as well. Like Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”, “The Book of Five Rings” is used in the business and management sphere quite often.

From my point of view, one of the reasons why Miyamoto Musashi became a legendary person during his lifetime is his great dedication to “the Way” and a lot of practice in the death combats against other samurai. In the commentaries to the book it is said that Miyamoto Musashi “was not interested in women and feasts, he did not like luxury and avoided the settled way of life – all his thoughts were focused on practicing the fighting craft”.

Let me quote a piece of text from this book:

“Each man practices as he feels inclined. It is said the warrior’s is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way.”

The part of this quote I’ve paid the most attention to, is that one, where it’s said that it doesn’t matter if you have a natural ability to be a warrior or not – if you are “sticking assiduously” to this idea, you can become one. That quote proves once again the rightness of the expression that talent itself doesn’t lead to success, the hard work does. Despite the absence of inborn traits and skills, you still are able to achieve a decent level of mastery in a field your heart longs for. And practice is the key. This thought is repeated through the whole book again and again. Almost every… in fact, every Miyamoto Musashi’s advice and recommendation is finished with the words that you should practice hard and diligently, if you wish to master the skill.

***

I started studying English when I was 8 years old. The reason, why I came to a decision to learn the English language, was the rapid appearance of English-speaking cartoons, recorded on VHS, in the city, where I lived: Disney’ classics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc. These cartoons were translated awfully and unprofessionally, or even not translated at all. So I was eager to understand what Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy were talking about (Due to his pronunciation, I still don’t understand what Donald Duck says even translated to my native language though :-) ). Thus, that was totally my decision to start studying the language. My grandmother found me a brilliant teacher and I began to attend the lessons.

Learning English was a lot of fun. I honestly enjoyed the lessons. I was grasping new words, grammar rules and pronunciation quite easily – I didn’t have to make myself learn it. My teacher assumed that I had an inborn talent for the foreign languages and that I should definitely continue practicing it. I considered it as the strong trait of my personality either. I also switched the schools at the age of 14. I enrolled in a school where the foreign languages were taught more intensely in comparison with the ordinary school. It was intended, that that shift of schools was going to make my knowledge of the English language even stronger.

So when I was in the last grade of school, neither my teachers nor my parents doubted that I should enroll in the Foreign Languages faculty of the local university. Plus, my teacher, who had been teaching me since my childhood, occupied a decent position at that faculty, so I could count on her help. In fact, I didn’t even think, that there could be any issues or obstacles, if I decide to enroll the Faculty of the Foreign Languages.

However, as mentioned in this article, I was very much into computer games and related stuff at that period of my life. I was daydreaming of being a computer games programmer/designer, and working on such famous game series as Fallout one day. Though the English language was one of my strongest skills, but (as I remember) I never visualized of having a job of a translator at those times. My heart didn’t belong to the languages – I wanted to create computer games. So it was obvious that I should enroll in the IT faculty instead of the Foreign Languages faculty of the university. And here goes the most interesting part of the story.

To become a student of the IT faculty, I had to pass the exams on mathematics and physics. The problem was that I was more of humanitarian mindset than the technical one. I cannot say that I didn’t understand mathematics and physics at all – I had average level of knowledge of these subjects – but I never bothered to pay them as much attention as I did to, for instance, my English classes or literature.

Thus, I knew that it would be rather hard to make such a transition – from humanitarian sciences to engineering ones – and would require discipline, consistency and courage overall. However, I heartily believed that practicing along with the devotion would improve the situation. It seemed, like my parents, friends and teachers didn’t share my enthusiasm though. Nevertheless, the social pressure was only making me work harder towards my goal.

Of course, I clearly understood that I would never become a prominent physicist like Dr. Sheldon Cooper of “The Big Bang Theory”, but that never was my intention actually. My goal was to get skills enough to be able to create computer games.

For the last two years of the school I was focusing mostly on math and physics than on any other subject, taught in the school. I started really to like these subjects. I tried to solve more exercises than it was asked by a teacher. I also spent the summer before the last year of school, studying the material of the last grade in advance, so I could understand it better. I was visualizing as I was accepted to the IT faculty and as I was sitting, listening to the lecturer with other students of the faculty, all the time. Plus, my parents hired a tutor from the university for me in the last half-year of school, so I could be prepared better.

Due to all the above actions, I made quite a decent improvement in mathematics and physics, which let me pass the exams and become a student of the IT faculty at last. And to graduate this faculty in five years also.

As you see, I didn’t have a talent for math and physics from my birth. I was average at these subjects during almost all the school years. I was not supposed to become a programmer at all. But I wanted to be one very much and I knew that practicing in the necessary subjects a lot will give me a chance. And that was the assiduous practice, which let me to enroll in the IT faculty and graduate this faculty as a programmer in the end.

Of course, I had experienced hesitation several times, while preparing for exams. Sometimes I was lost in doubts whether I should stick with the chosen goal or drop it. I was scared that I would look ridiculous in front of my other classmates if I failed in my attempts to enroll in the faculty, which represented the entirely different field of knowledge, which I had no talent for. But I continued practicing through studying and doing a lot of mathematical and physic exercises – and I had achieved my goal eventually.

What About You?

Have you ever thought of engaging in something you suppose, you have no inborn talent for? Something really different from what you used to do for years?

Maybe you’ve been thinking of a career change for a while, but do not take any decent actions, because you are sure that “it’s not yours”. Probably, someone told you that you are not a match for that career and you won’t succeed, so you dropped this idea?

The absence of the inborn talent for something can be compensated with lots of practice and training in the field you feel longing for. It was known more than 300 years ago and even earlier. And I’m sure that Miyamoto Musashi knew what he was talking about, because I’ve checked it with my own experience.

So are you dwelling on the idea of taking another path from time to time? You cannot forget it still? Thinking of what it would be like, if you’d give it a try? Then why not really give it a try? Stick with it for a decent period of time and do your best, so you could definitely say whether you are capable or not.

As the Coldplay band sings “But if you never try you’ll never know just what you worth”.

January 9th, 2012

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