The Bad of Being Better

The mums bloom each autumn as the last of the maple leaves fall.

“For everything that you now do well, one time, you did it poorly.”

I remember long ago hearing this reminder to persevere in the face of early failure. I brought it to mind as a younger man when I was trying to learn to do manual muscle tests, serve a tennis ball, hang wall paper and learn DOS.

It is so easy to think “I’ll never get it” when nothing is automatic, everything is clumsy and awkward, and in the process of trying to improve your efficiency, you are, for days or weeks, less efficient and more unproductive than ever.

Remembering to remember those times at the low end of the learning curve has actually helped to make more recent episodes of novice frustration and perplexity less of a bitter pill. I know, if I am patient and not too hard on myself, there will come a time when I’ll look back and remember how hard that thing seemed back then that comes to me now without thinking–with expertise and a certain grace and ease.

Even so, when you’re here in the middle of the muddle–like I am this week–it seems such a onerous burden when things get worse because you’re making things better.

It makes matters temporarily even worse here in the ankle-deep end of the pool of knowledge, that I’m one of those sorts that actually reads the manual from cover to cover. I have a stack of them all of a sudden this week–almost all software and electronics related.

They’re not critical to any particular client or job, only to my own self-improvement. When I’m done I’ll be better at several techy “activities of daily living.” If I hang in here, every day I’ll add more mental muscle, more facility and coordination, more power towards harnessing the full capability of my tools, and the use of those tools toward doing well something that is meaningful to me.

But just now, being better is a pain in the rump.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. goodness I remember three years ago when I started this new career and I thought I was so useless they’d send me back to France after my probation period. It was like climbing an ice mountain wearing slippers and a long dress!

    Now I’m one step from being a senior analyst and training others. And, if I say so myself, my bank Trojan detections are a work of art

    I still feel like a fraud though
    funny that