Learning To Practice

A reporter once asked a successful banking executive, “What has been the key to your success?” The exec responded, “Two words.” The reporter asked, “What are those two words?” “Good decisions,” said the exec. “How did you learn to make those good decisions?” asked the reporter. “One word,” said the exec. The reporter asked, “What is that one word?” “Experience,” said the exec.” “And how did you gain experience?” asked the reporter. “Two Words.” “Which are?” asked the reporter. “Bad decisions,” said the exec decisively.

The secret to his success was the tutelage of his mistakes. It took the practice of making wrong decisions in order to learn how to make right ones. This idea of practice is the most fundamental directive in all of yoga. There is no yoga performance. There is no yoga perfection. There is only practice. Like one wise teacher told me: “There is no correct or incorrect way to do yoga. There is only more or less skillful as you learn and experience along the way.”

Many of us are so afraid to fail, to make mistakes, that we never even begin the journey. We don’t dare to dream. Before we can ever learn from the experience, we pre-empt our growth and ensure our failure by refusing to ever get off the couch. At least that way, we justify, our failure won’t be so public. The point is that there is no failure. There is only this opportunity to grow and learn. I hated yoga at first because I felt it only showed me all the places where I was weak. As I continued to practice, those weaknesses became strengths. Then I found NEW weaknesses. And the cycle continues, but now I get it. That’s the point. There will always be somewhere new to journey, new lessons to learn and there will always be a trail leading back to the miles of lessons I’ve just learned.

More than four years ago, I took a big risk to leave security and comfort and join some partners for the chance to build a business, Prana Yoga, which eventually became two yoga studios. We did it! We all did together and I can’t even begin to express the challenges we all experienced while we watched that thing grow. I earned a Ph.D. from the School of Hard Knocks by owning that business, I tell you what. Those business were incredible successes, despite the fact that they both closed this year. One thing I learned is that there are several levels of success. I’m still growing and learning from that business as I continue put out the fires. Now, I see the equation: Risk+worry+work+growth=invaluable experience. I can’t promise that I’ll open another yoga studio, but I know that going forward I will make increasingly smarter decisions. I can promise you two things. First, I promise that I have yet many more mistakes waiting for me, some of them are probably big ones. Second, I promise that by learning from my mistakes, it will take larger and larger demons to pull me down. There is an extremely redemptive poem by Rilke called The Man Watching, where in the last few lines he says:

Winning does not tempt that man. 
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively, 
by constantly greater beings.

And when ever I catch myself feeling like life’s beating me down, I remember the soreness in my muscles is due to the fact that they are becoming stronger as I practice wrestling with the challenges of life.

This week I invite you to enjoy the notion of practice. This is all just practice. I invite you to remember your big dreams. There’s no such thing as crazy, except for staying on the couch. Come on! What are you afraid to do? You all have homework: on the comments section of my blog, please write what you would do if you had no fear that you would fail. You can be anonymous or sign it, but write it down. Read what other people would do and see how brilliant people are. Who’s going to be the first brave person to write? Will it be you?

See you at practice.