Once something becomes easy, you are no longer growing. A new challenge - physical, emotional, intellectual, or circumstantial - offers broad growth as your system adjusts to meet new demands. Any class of challenge brings specific adaptations but also broad growth. Under a hard physical challenge your body grows stronger as does your mental and emotional ability to grow.

Challenge your physicality with brand new challenges and you find broader benefit than just the specific skill. Learn to juggle and the timing and coordination that you develop to achieve this new skill apply to many other things. Learn a handstand and the strength, control, balance, and body awareness benefit you far outside your handstand practice.

In the early stages of skill development the benefit curve is steep, bringing broad scale pay-off for each incremental step forward in progress. This is because you still have so much to gain in both the specific pattern of juggling or handstanding and still stand to gain all the peripheral benefits to follow. As the work continues and you grow closer and closer to relative mastery the benefit curve levels off.

Once you have collected most of the broad scale benefits - the indirect ones - the only thing left to progress are the specifics of the skilled pattern. As you turn this corner on the benefit curve your training turns from new skill development with broad pay-off to specialization. While some forms of specialization are critical to life and fitness, be weary of how the process can blunt further progress. Further pursuit of this specialized skill requires valuable time that could be spent on other skills (especially those you are much less practiced at). As you turn the corner of diminishing returns from broad learning to specialization, two critical switches occur:

  • Discomfort is replaced by comfort

  • Frustration is replaced by fun

We transition from a beginner, open, humble and earnestly working, to relative mastery and feelings of comfort, pride, and confidence in our new skill. What was once an exercise in growth and humility becomes a demonstration of hubris and self-assurance. This process isn’t all bad. We absolutely need to get to the point of comfort with as many skills as possible. This is the process of claiming and owning a new skill. Also, learning to master anything applies broadly. The real benefit is learning the process toward mastery (in any field) and the deep work that it requires.

This process is meant to be iterative though, not a path that you walk only once. True fitness (and true fulfillment) come not from the achievement of mastery but in the constant work toward it.

So easily we can walk this path once and enjoy the results from the end. We get stuck in the rewarding feelings that come in the final phases. We fail to realize that the true fulfillment in this process was not the ever-advancing place that we stood, but in the advancing itself. Not in where we stand but in the steps we’ve taken to get there.

It’s beautiful to celebrate the skills that you have developed. It’s important to revisit them, honing and improving, searching for new lessons along the way. It’s even more important though, to release your grip on the rewarding emotions and take on a new challenge, rather than constantly returning to what you’re already good at and showcasing what you have already achieved.