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One of the hardest things to get past in my performing days was the big chasm between what I envisioned being able to do, and what I could actually do.

I got all inspired and lit up like I was on fire when I saw Cirque du Soleil, but then the first time I got onto a trapeze, I could barely hold on to the bar with my hands.

I didn’t remember it being this hard to play on the monkey bars at school, so I was like, “What the hell?”

But my hands just weren’t conditioned to holding up my entire body weight anymore. (One of the drawbacks of starting to learn all this stuff at 22 instead of when you’re a kid.)

Pull-ups were a distant goal. In fact, I’ve talked about before how it took me a year and a half to get strong enough to do even one. (You can read that story here.)

All that time, for a whole year and a half, what was I working on?

I was pushing past sucking.

I sucked at everything I tried to do. But I kept on trying.

Trying to do pull-ups, even though I wasn’t strong enough.

Falling on my ass more times than I can count. (Thank God for crash-pads!)

Trying to climb the Ribbon or hang on to the Chinese Pole.

Getting bruised by the Lyra and burned by the Webs.

Feeling like I was having a heart attack because the Hanging Perch was so high up in the air that I was looking down on the gym’s rafters.

Failing to land tricks from the Teeterboard, even though my trainer said I had a beautiful kick-out from my back tuck.

And yes, it was frustrating as hell, and I did get discouraged. Quite often. But I kept going anyway, half out of stubbornness, and half out of that vision I held in my mind’s eye of accomplishing something awesome.

And then one day things finally started to click.

I still wasn’t getting it perfectly, but neither was I falling down and getting hurt all the time.

The good news for you is this: Most performance skills don’t come with as much pain in the learning process as circus does.

The bad news is this: It still takes time.

We live in a world where people expect everything on-demand, but mastery takes practice. Skill building takes time and repetition.

There’s just no getting around that.

So what’s the best thing you can do to get better at whatever you want, whether that’s performing or writing or whatever?

Do it. A lot.

Practice. Rehearse. Perform.

For any audience that will have you.

It’s just like “Lather. Rinse. Repeat.”

Keep going until you start to feel confident, until it becomes muscle-memory, and you can roll with the punches and make a quick recovery when you lose a line in a play, forget your song lyrics, or your train of thought in a presentation.

And remember that everyone was a beginner at some point in their lives.

It’s how much you hone your craft that will help you transition from beginner to intermediate to advanced to expert status more quickly.

But it’s not just frequency that makes the difference; it’s quality.

My skills improved significantly when I stopped trying to deconstruct everything on my own and began working with a professional trainer. She was able to see tiny mistakes I was making and help me to use technique where I lacked brute strength, and yet still accomplish the same things as someone else who was relying on their strength to compensate for the technique they lacked.

After all, if you can learn an easier (and safer) way to do the same thing, and that little hack doesn’t compromise the quality of your performance, wouldn’t you do it?

Hell yes!

I’ll never forget the day that she told me, “You have no idea how good you are!”

Even though I was stunned by that compliment, it was so wonderful to hear because it meant the days of sucking were long gone. I had finally pushed past that point and that mindset.

To this day, even if I were to get back into it and learn new tricks or skills, my mindset and the approach to practice that I cultivated through all that hard work is still with me, and the learning would go much faster because of my philosophy toward mastery — even when it’s still a work in progress.

My daughter is taking classes now, and it’s both hard and fun to watch her struggle with it. But I love to see this quote behind her on the studio wall:

“Don’t practice until you can get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.”

That mindset is the real secret sauce, for any performer, no matter what their discipline.

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