“You’re such a baby.”
The phrase is meant as an insult, usually uttered when the recipient is whining or complaining about a trivial matter. The speaker of the phrase, however, is usually a person who has paid precious little attention to babies.
When it comes to persistence and perseverance, babies take the cake. Have you ever watched a baby learning to walk? There is may be nothing else more inspiring on the planet. These kiddos fail – bigly – by the dozens every single day. For months. They literally fall flat on their little cherub faces time and time again. But I have yet to meet a child who, after falling down for the three hundredth time, concluded walking must not be for him. I have yet to meet a child confined to a wheelchair for simple lack of perseverance. That is not how they are wired. Every single time they fall down, they regroup, get up, and try again. They rarely even get frustrated. It’s as if they understand deep down that this isn’t supposed to be an easy process, but they know they are born to do it and so they just keep trying to get it right.
Somewhere along the line, we grow up and completely lose that faith in ourselves that we will eventually get it right. We try something new and it’s difficult and we aren’t met with instant success and we conclude that we just aren’t any good at that thing. It might even be something that we really enjoy doing, but the initial joy that we feel is slowly replaced with frustration at not getting it right and soon we’ve given up entirely. All it takes is a little criticism – internal or external – to shut us down completely.
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell asserts that it takes at least ten thousand hours for human beings to become masters of complicated tasks such as playing the violin or becoming a chess grandmaster. Ten thousand hours. That’s roughly ten years of dedicated work – pushing yourself past the comfort zone – in order to master your craft. Of course babies learn to walk well before they are ten years old, but walking isn’t a complicated task. (At least, for most of us.)
Many of us become so frustrated well before we reach that mark, however, and we give up entirely. We may hit walls in our development or face rejection and we simply decide that we lack the talent to proceed, but proceeding – pushing ourselves – is the only way to mastery. Be a baby, try again.
Stories abound of wildly successful individuals who failed and faced rejection before finally getting their big breaks. Did you know that several publishers rejected Harry Potter? Just recently, in fact, J.K. Rowling submitted a manuscript under a pen name and the rejection letter she received suggested she enroll in a writing course! It’s laughable that the highest grossing author of all time faces rejection like that, but it certainly wasn’t laughable when she was a struggling single mother on welfare trying to get her work out into the world. Aren’t you glad she didn’t give up?
Don’t get me wrong, failure and rejection are painful and difficult to experience but they are part of the process. It may be true that you’re just not good at your task. It also may be true that you just need more practice – a lot more practice.
Here’s another point to consider as we examine how babies teach themselves to move through the world in an upright fashion: they quite literally only focus on taking one tiny step. When figuring out this walking thing, a baby doesn’t have the goal of becoming the next Boston Marathon winner in mind. She is thinking only of taking one tiny step on her own.
As adults, of course we are driven my big goals and that’s a good thing, but thinking about all of the steps between where we are and where we’re going can be daunting and paralyzing. Instead, just focus on one step in the right direction. And then the next one. And when you fall down don’t let frustration derail you. Just get up and try again. You’ve gone through this process at least once before, and you succeeded brilliantly! There’s no doubt you can do it again, one baby step at a time.