When a creative person first embarks on his or her journey, they enter a very telling phase. They make sacrifices, immerse themselves in their craft, absorb the rules, learn the classics, and struggle to churn out their own (awkward) work. They refine their skills as they toil along.
Maybe it’s an apprenticeship period—lasting five to ten years—or maybe it’s a particular project—lasting, say, a year or two.
When we complete this phase—this apprenticeship or project—we come out the other end a changed person. To friends and family, we may even look different. But our appearance hasn’t really changed. No—we’ve changed in other ways.
Our brains have stretched; newer and stronger neural connections have been made; we’ve trained ourselves to study longer, to think deeper, to focus more intensely, and to learn new skills.
Our spirit has toughened; we’ve learned how to handle adversity, mistakes, failure, and overcome these obstacles.
Our DNA has literally changed; we’ll never be the same.
We’ve learned how to be professionals, how to be diligent, how to be disciplined and serious about our life’s work. This period of immense pain, hard work, and intense focus has accelerated our maturity process. (If we undergo this phase in our twenties, others may mistake us to be older than we are.)
This arduous, yet pleasurable, process is the only way to get better, stronger, and smarter.
When a caterpillar struggles to break free from the tiny slit in its cocoon, the struggle is what forces blood into its lifeless wings. Struggle is what turns the hairy caterpillar into a graceful butterfly. We humans are the same. We need struggle to fly.
Struggle, pain, and working through resistance—these are the elements that drive blood into our flaccid wings and trigger our evolution.
Phases of deep learning, apprenticeships, courses of study—these are crucial. Yes, there’s much to learn, and, at times, we’ll seem in over our heads. We’ll make false starts. But in the end, completing these chapters in our lives will give us confidence, more intricate skills, renewed energy, and direction (where do we go next?).
We come out the tunnel a new man or woman, like a soldier coming home after years of disciplinary training. And then, the only thing left to do, is to go on to the next thing.