Recently, I was housesitting at my sister’s place in the county and decided to draw her house, so I went out the yard, found a good angle, and started to draw.
After 30+ minutes of intense effort, drawing and redrawing the lines, I had gotten absolutely nowhere. The shapes and perspective were fairly complex and I just couldn’t make it work no matter how hard I tried. The drawing was a jumble of disconnected lines and I had to give it up because the sun was setting.
Part of me was disappointed that I failed, but I’ve been studying ‘the learning process’ so much over the last few years and what I’ve come to understand is that skills are like muscles. In order to develop them, our brains need struggle.
You know that feeling where your mind is fully engaged and bordering on panic because what you’re doing is stretching you to the limit and you feel like you’re one small move away from total failure? That’s the feeling of growth. When you lose that, you stop advancing.
Sitting down to do something and just effortlessly accomplishing it is practically worthless for our brains. What we need in order to grow is short bursts of full engagement, struggle, and failure.
Occasionally, producing an embarrassingly-bad drawing that looks like it was made by a 7-year-old is exactly what I need in order to advance as a draftsman.
After years of practice, I still regularly run up against this feeling in music production, drawing, painting, writing (less often), and other skills that are important to me.
In the back of my mind, I have this fantasy that someday the struggle will just fade away and I’ll be successful in every attempt. Knowing what I know now, I hope it never does. I hope the struggle is always there because when the struggle is gone, the growth is gone, and when growth is gone, what is left?