Key to Korean #3: Uncommon Skill Requires Uncommon Practice

Yu Ho and band at JIFF

One of my best friends is a drummer.

He’s probably one of the best drummers in the city (some would say in the province). He’s a pretty busy guy. Here are some of the things he does as a drummer:

  1. He plays for 2 services at our church every Sunday
  2. He’s a member of a Korean folk/modern fusion band.
  3. He’s recorded a CD or two (locally).
  4. Their band was recently invited to play at the Jeonju International Film Festival Square (see above pic).
  5. He teaches drum lessons to (1) children at local schools; (2) individuals in his private studio; and (3) members of the church every Saturday night.

When we meet someone like this, one of the first things we think is: Wow, he must really be living his dream! He must be out there constantly ‘doing his dream!’ What’s it like to always be ‘doing it, doing it, doing it?’ 

Anyway, that was my first impression – until he started giving me drum lessons. When I walked into his studio one afternoon, I found him doing something I’d least expected. He wasn’t preparing for classes or taking a much needed break or even practicing music for his band. But he was practicing. He was repetitively practicing speed and technique drills!

Practice makes Perfect

Cliched as it is, it’s true. But it isn’t just any practice that makes perfect (like practicing music for your band). Rather, it’s the practice of developing specific, uncommon skills in order to master them. Michael E. Gerber gives a great explanation of this from a business perspective in E-Myth Mastery:

Most people who want to start a business believe that all it takes is good common sense. That any dummy can run a business. That given the will and the wish, they absolutely already possess what they need to pull it off.

Unfortunately, they don’t. Few people do. It takes much, much more than good common sense. It takes uncommon skill. And to develop uncommon skill requires, first of all, that you know what skills are required, and second, that you are committed to the practice of developing those skills in order to become a master of them. And to pull that off takes uncommon passion. The skill and the passion. A dance between the two is essential, a dance that requires practice.

The unfortunate truth is that few people want to practice. Most people, in my experience in fact, refuse to practice. “Practice what?” they argue. “Building a business isn’t practice, building a business is work. Work and creativity. You go to work, you don’t go to practice.”

(E-Myth Mastery, page 12-13)

Practice is a Discipline

Have you ever seen a guy at the beach with six-pack abs? Ever wondered what it would be like to be that guy? “Ah, must be nice, to be so fit. If I was so fit, I wouldn’t have to watch my diet or worry about missing my workout…”

Have you ever met someone who’s fluent in another language? Ever wondered what that would be like? “Ah, must be nice, to be able to get around in that language fluently. If I could do that, then I wouldn’t need to get Korean friends to help me out anymore…”

We usually end our aspirations like that. “Ah, must be nice. If I was like that, then I wouldn’t have to…practice.” But the truth is, practice is a discipline that cannot be ignored, especially after achieving a level of success:

  • Rock-hard abs aren’t achieved without much practice, and certainly aren’t maintained without continual practice. (Even watching your diet is a lengthy, disciplined practice that few keep well.)
  • Musical skill isn’t learned without practice – and it will plateau quickly without continual, drilled, and disciplined practice.
  • Fluency in another language must also be practiced continually. It’s not enough to study a book, a word, or a grammar point once. Those things must also be continually, daily practiced in order to master them and commit them to “muscle memory.”

Practice is a discipline. A discipline is hard. But mastery is not achieved without it. You’ll never live your dreams without an uncommon amount of practice. But, if you continually give practice a little of your time, it will pay you back in greater returns than you currently imagine. And it starts paying off almost immediately.

Practice invites Opportunities

Remember how we voice usually voice our aspirations, “Ah, must be nice. If I was like that…” and then we never do anything about them? Imagine if you started doing something about that. Imagine if you started practicing what you dream:

  • A person who starts practicing exercise and a healthy diet has more energy, does better work, and gets noticed by upper management .
  • A musician who starts practicing drills finds that certain techniques become fluid movements, and they are invited to play at more and more locations.
  • A second language learner who daily practices the language will pick up on conversations and cultural context more easily, and make more connections in that second language.

The opportunities that come from practice are only as limited as your practice is. With more practice come more opportunities. But when practice ceases, opportunities cease as well.

Uncommon Practice precedes Success

That’s why people who work hard at a certain thing for 20 years suddenly become an “overnight success.” People are drawn to uncommon skill. Uncommon skill is developed through uncommon practice. And uncommon practice is born out of an uncommon desire.

It’s time to stop trying to fit in and be normal. Opportunities for “normal” are seriously limited because everyone is “normal.” Be weird. Step out of your comfort zone. Practice, practice, practice. The opportunity for “doing it, doing it, doing it” will come after other people realize that you’re already “doing it, doing it, doing it” in your practice.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go drill Korean grammar structures in my Wongoji notebook.

What are you practicing?

(“Doing it, doing it, doing it” is also a concept from E-Myth Mastery)