Nov 112015 3 Responses

We Need More Practice at Life

In days long ago, many professions were called practices and professionals were called practitioners. The custom still remains. My doctor is considered a practitioner. He plays many roles: teacher, counselor, guide, and friend. However, the main definition for what he does is practice medicine.

The term reminds us that professions like medicine, law, and art are never mastered. His knowledge grows. She becomes more proficient. But no one fully arrives. There’s not a level of expertise that allows a practitioner to consider themselves complete.

So it is with life. We’re all just practicing. Far more than medicine or technology, life is continually changing. Today’s knowledge is not enough for tomorrow. Skills mastered last night might be meaningless this morning.

Two Failed Approaches to Life

Some people are reactionary, waiting for things to happen. They hope life turns out all right. They believe they have no control. They believe all success is a result of luck. Have a good marriage? You must have won the coin toss. Have a great career? You must have known someone. Are you happy? You were probably born that way. (See: When Life Seems Out of Control)

While they want success, lasting love, and happiness, they have no plan for obtaining it. They think counseling is a waste. Coaching is something children need. And they haven’t read a meaningful book since a teacher made them do so.

For these people, life is all about luck and they are waiting for a miracle.

Others live in complete arrogance, believing they’ve mastered life. They take credit for everything they have, and believe they deserve it. To them, failure is a personal flaw. Are you poor? You must not be that smart. Did you get fired? You must have done something wrong. Are you sick? God must be mad at you.

Having experienced early success, they’ve drawn the false conclusion that they have it all together. They deflect any misfortune or flaw as an anomaly. Failure is always someone else’s fault. Growth is something they once needed, but now that they’ve arrived, there’s no need for further insight.

A Better Way

Few people live their lives totally in one of these two camps. Most spend time in both. In some areas they’re totally confident, and in others they’re playing the wishing game, just hoping life will change for the better.

But there is a different way to live. You need to become a practitioner.

I like the word practice, the root of practitioner, because it moves from the hypothetical to the actual use of an idea. There are a lot of people who love to talk about theory. They’ll give you their theory of life, marriage, death, religion, and everything in between. At times, their knowledge might seem endless. But that ends when they have to put their theories to the test, because they hate action.

Think about coaches. They draw up plays because the team has to understand what’s expected of them. But that sketch is just the beginning. The players have to take what they’ve been shown and turn it into reality. (See: A Lesson in Longevity from Coach K)

Life is the same way. It’s meant to be lived. It’s not something to simply ponder. In the same way, a doctor or nurse doesn’t just study medicine. They apply what they’ve learned to heal and comfort their patients.

A life practitioner doesn’t just think about how to live, they actually engage in relationships, work, joy, suffering, and the other aspects of life that everyone experiences.

Practice also implies the need for continual growth and learning. I can still hear my junior high basketball coach saying, “run it again” at practice. He was teaching us a basic offensive set and he wanted it to become second nature. We would run the play and something would go wrong.  “Run it again,” he would say, and we’d do it again. We ran the same play over and over, trying to get it right.

We never did reach perfection, but we did get better, which was what the coach was after.

The same can be said of how we live our lives. If we’re practitioners we learn, grow, attempt, fail, succeed, and learn some more. We do this not just in one area of life, but in every area. There is no subsection where we are masters no longer needing growth. There is no place where we just hope life goes the way we want.

This world needs practitioners–people who think hard about the issues of life, but refuse to stop with the hypothetical. They don’t expect to master life or to reach perfection, but they keep trying. They keep learning. They never stop.

I regularly trade books with friends. I give them the best of what I’ve been reading and they do the same for me. One of my friends is in his eighties. He is more than aware there is a lot to learn. How easy it would be to stop reading, to assume he either has life all figured out or there is no need to try.

But he’s a practitioner. He learns, applies, and then learns some more.

Three Characteristics of Life Practitioners

Practitioners know a few things that others do not.

1. They know there is far more to be learned in doing than in theorizing. They don’t downplay the importance of thought. They are firm believers in it. Yet, they only see value in thinking if those thoughts are tested in real life. To think just for the sake of thought is not enough. It might be fun, but it’s not useful. And more than anything, it isn’t truthful. Many things seem wise in theory. In theory, I’ve assumed I wanted to do many things. But when I’ve actually done those things, I quickly learned they weren’t for me. Thought is important, but only when it’s wedded to action.

2. They are open to learn from anyone, anywhere, about anything. There is no wasted knowledge. Most of the important inventions of our day are the result of mash-ups. One piece of knowledge from one field of study collides with another piece of knowledge from another field of study and is applied in a third field. Those are the things changing the world. Because of this, practitioners don’t just tolerate others, they seek them. They know there is power in differences of perspective and experience. Every person is a potential teacher. (See: Every Great Leader Loves to Learn)

3. They believe the only day better than today is tomorrow. Practitioners are well aware of the ills of the day. They grieve and mourn the sorrows of the world. Yet they are not overwhelmed by sadness. They have an amazing ability to focus on the positive without denying the negative. While others are paralyzed by fear, practitioners are empowered by possibility. The ability to learn a new skill, have a new insight, or be confronted with an old fault, inspires practitioners and draws their attention away from despair.

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