There are no shortages of clichés regarding the passage of time. Some center on how fleeting it is and others ask us to patiently wait for it to pass. Human beings spend a lot of it just trying to understand it. When did it begin? How does it work? Can we travel across it? Perceiving time is as simple as watching the ticking of the second hand but understanding its complexity is beyond comprehension. Perhaps the key to utilizing it well in our reality lies somewhere in the middle of those clichéd phrases and not in trying to harness it. We ought to be willing to put in time doing something productive in small increments over the long haul while knowing it’s evaporating with every breath we take.
But try telling that to the eager, starry-eyed kid who just bought his first beat up Strat asking his guitar teacher how to play Cliffs of Dover in his first lesson. Or to the student who thinks getting their college degree will yield the same results as spending 10 years working in their desired field. Or to the middle-aged mom who spent years allowing their body to get out of shape and expects miraculous results in only weeks from the latest slimming fad. Wanting to be immediately adept at something new is no different for anyone with dreams of achievement. But asking people to put in the work and be satisfied with modest yet measurable gains over a long period of time is a tough sell to the majority of people in any endeavor. In a world where instant gratification is available and expected these days, there’s one commodity that just cannot be bought, sold, borrowed, lent, ransomed, given, stored, stopped, or manipulated in any manner – time.
How can I teach someone to do what I do? I learned it over the course of years by accumulating knowledge and adding new skills to those I already had. My position was built, not taught.
That’s how my mom puts it.
Did you ever have a boss ask you to teach another co-worker how to do your job? Or have you ever had a pupil or admirer of your talents ask you to show them how to do what you do? My mom is right. To attempt to quantify, condense, and disseminate your expertise into a quickie training seminar after having the luxury of building upon your skill-set and honing your talent over the course of time is ludicrous. It would be overwhelming and discouraging to dump all of your years of knowledge on someone’s plate and expect them to remember it and become as proficient as you without granting them the benefit of time to learn. Yet this is what is often asked of us and what we ask of others.
The concept of apprenticeships seems to have fallen by the wayside in our 21st century charge towards instant fulfillment. We ought to be teaching our youth to accept that there are no shortcuts to greatness – in anything: work, music, art, relationships, etc. And if we’re honest, we need to come to grips with that fact ourselves. Too easily we get caught up in the magical thinking that one day we’ll be who we want to be, where we want to be, with the skills we want to have, through no investment of our own. It will just “happen.” But hard work is only part of the equation. Time is a critical factor that is seldom talked about. It takes time for skills to become fluid and second nature. It takes time for your brain to be ready to accept additional training. And it takes time to build a past that you can reflect upon.
Time is a resource that will be used – one way or another. No one knows how much of it they have been allotted. Am I spending my precious ration of it on activities which serve to advance me closer to my goals while patiently waiting for the fruits of my labor to ripen? Or am I only wishing for the unattainable while frittering away my days and years with meaningless actions, frustrated that a short-term investment hasn’t fulfilled my lifelong goals?