Like Peeling Potatoes


Mar 07 2016

Gold Tape

Like Peeling Potatoes

I always dread peeling potatoes, believing that I’m not good and I won’t enjoy it. Sure enough, the first potato is awkward and slow. This will take all freaking day, I think.

But as I continue, my technique improves. I develop a system, tweaking and perfecting my approach with the peeler. It goes by much faster, and even becomes therapeutic. I start to think that I could be a professional potato peeler. 

What does peeling potatoes remind me of? There’s a familiar sensation to it that I face nearly every day. It can be boiled down to two major insights:

1. Starting is the hardest part.

2. Practice makes perfect.

Sure, the other tasks in my day are more nuanced than peeling potatoes. The process, however, is nearly identical. 

Starting is the hardest part.

Self-doubt fills me with dread as I approach a task. I fear that I won’t be up for it, that I don’t feeeeel like it, and the task will require energy. But a girl’s gotta eat, so I have to peel that potato eventually. Let’s get on with it.

Practice makes perfect.

They say it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert. It’s not necessarily how you spend that time but the fact that you do. The Beatles, for instance, would play for 8 hours a night in Hamburg before they returned to Britain as superstars. Of course there are other variables (luck. opportunity.), but what you can control (to a certain degree) is the time you put in.

The more potatoes I peel, the better I get, and I certainly haven’t spent 10 hours at the task let alone 10,000. I can only get better at my work – writing – by writing every day. I have to put in the hours. Same goes for whatever skill you are working on.

Another example – I have read many books about how to improve as a rock climber. There are certain exercises you can do – running is great – and I have been known to practice setting anchors on furniture with rope in my bedroom. But the best way to improve at climbing is – guess what – to climb. But of course.

Do I feel myself improving?

No. And if so, only minutely. But what I do feel, in a massive way, is all of those distracting, inhibiting thoughts and feelings dropping off until they are non-existant. Writing has become part of my daily routine, as matter-of-fact as brushing my teeth. It just happens. No energy wasted moping about whether I should or shouldn’t. My brain doesn’t get to show off its dramatic excellence in coming up with the wildest excuses in desperation. 

That voice of inhibition is best characterised by the song “Book Report” in You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, in which each of the Peanuts kids procrastinates in his or her own way. [Well, except Linus, who goes WAY beyond expectations]. 

I work best under pressure
and there’ll be lots of pressure if I wait til tomorrow
I should start writing now
But if I starting writing now
when I’m not fully rested it could upset my thinking
which is not good at all!

So. Great. 

Don’t be a Charlie Brown. Get on with it.


P.S. When I explain to people what I do, I say that I write about what I learn from nerdy things that I like. I think that this post in particular exemplifies this. In case you still need convincing, here is a post that compares productivity with Mario Kart strategy.

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