When I was a kid, one of my good friends was Steve Reid. Steve later went on to be a successful musician in Memphis, Tennessee, though he passed away unexpectedly two years ago. We lost touch over the years but thankfully reconnected before he left this earth.
As a working musician, Steve certainly knew how to keep going despite failure. We never talked about it, but I know the life of a musician is hard–constantly hustling to get the gigs, to make a living, to keep the vibe going.
Whenever you seek to improve something like your communication skills, you tend to hit a plateau. It’s part of the learning curve, perhaps at the junction between conscious incompetence and conscious competence. In any case, despite putting effort into it, your advance seems to have stopped.
A lot of people quit at this point, especially if they’ve heard the self-help slogan, “Insanity is doing the same thing while expecting different results.” Another version: “If you keep doing the same thing, you’ll keep getting the same outcome.”
That’s a useful insight, of course. No one wants to keep beating his head against a wall.
A paradox is when something is true, and its opposite is also true. Here’s the opposite truth: By this reasoning a hen looks stupid for about 21 days. It looks as if nothing is happening. But then something remarkable happens. A stone mason may hammer on his wedge a hundred times, apparently without effect. But then on the 100th or 110th or 120th blow, the stone face may suddenly shear off.
Just because you can’t see anything happening doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Consider the egg.
So how do you know when to quit (because it’s truly useless) and when to persist?
I don’t know.
I just know that most of us tend to give up too soon.
I think ultimately you develop wisdom that comes from experience, an intuition that allows you to sense changes where others see nothing. That takes a certain vulnerability, the willingness to be wrong, the willingness to make mistakes. You learn more from your “mistakes” than you do from your successes, but always be learning.
And learn to live with paradoxes.