The Mr. Miyagi Guide to Practice

Recently, the organization I work for hired a new videographer/storyteller. As soon as she started, I told her, “I want you to ask permission any time you do something on your own. In other words, you’re handcuffed to the team.”

At first, she didn’t understand this. But eventually, I explained the point of the exercise. She’s incredibly talented and has always worked on her own. So I wanted to teach her the importance of working with a team.

When I finished explaining this, she said, “Oh. So you’re going to Miyagi me?” Exactly.

Wax on, wax off
Remember that scene from The Karate Kid, in which Mr. Miyagi made Daniel-san wax his car? (What — you’ve never seen that movie?! Shame on you. Go watch it now. It’s a classic!)

The point of the exercise wasn’t to teach Daniel how to buff. It was to teach him the fundamentals of his craft.

So Daniel spends weeks doing this repetitive, boring task. Over and over again. Until finally he can’t take it anymore. He didn’t sign up for this. He wanted to learn Karate. He wanted to be awesome. And this felt like a waste of time.

But then Miyagi shows him what he’s been doing has been preparation for all the cool moves he’s going to learn. In fact, he’s already learned them — without realizing it.

Daniel learns an important lesson here. And so do we when we commit ourselves to the work, not just the fruit:

There is no awesome and mundane. There is only the work that must be done.

Want to learn guitar? Get a baby…
Our son was born four and a half weeks early. There were no medical complications (thank God), but he was pretty fussy when we brought him home from the hospital.

We quickly learned the best way to get him to take a nap was to play guitar and sing him a song. Now, this is our default reaction to his tears.

Have an uncontrollable, sobbing baby? How about a little early 90s pop punk? (Our boy prefers The Ataris… as he should.)

For over a year, I neglected playing the guitar. I told myself it was because I was a writer, not a musician. But secretly, I missed it. I felt bad for not taking it as seriously as I used to.

I told myself I’d pick it back up… some day. Little did I know, a crying baby would help me out.

Fast forward five months, and I’m back. My callouses have returned, and my voice is the strongest it’s ever been. Was I trying to get better? Of course not; I was trying to make a baby go to sleep.

Really, I was just going through the motions. Turns out, that’s all practice is.

What we learn from this
There are three lessons we learn from this Miyagi-style teaching:
Sometimes, practice doesn’t feel like practice.
You’re practicing even when you don’t realize it.
All of life is practice — even the boring parts (in fact, especially the boring parts).
So the question is: What are you practicing right now? Is it a legacy you’d be proud of?

Whatever you’re doing, don’t believe the lie that says you’re doing nothing. No, friend; you’re practicing something. It’s just a matter of how intentional you’re being.

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