“Practice is the best of all instructors” (Publilius Syrus).
IN THE REAL WORLD, THERE IS NO GOOD SUBSTITUTE FOR PRACTICE. Consequently, the people we admire are often those whose skill or character traits have been acquired by means of practice. Natural abilities and intelligence may provide a head start, but there is no shortcut to excellence. Talent has to be honed and disciplined, and the only way to do that is practice, practice, practice.
(1) Practicing our skills. I still remember how embarrassing it was in the fourth grade to show up for my weekly piano lesson not having practiced anything that had been assigned. “It doesn’t do any good to come for a new lesson,” my teacher would say, “if you haven’t practiced last week’s lesson.” It was painful to hear, but I knew it was true: you have to practice to get good at anything. And as adults, practice is no less important. “What we do best or most perfectly is what we have most thoroughly learned by the longest practice, and at length it falls from us without our notice, as a leaf from a tree” (Thoreau).
(2) Being practical people. We often distinguish between “theory” and “practice,” and that illustrates a second usage of practice. Most of us know a good many things in the realm of theory, but strictly speaking, we don’t really know these things until we’ve seen them borne out in practice. “However much thou art read in theory, if thou has no practice, thou art ignorant” (Saadi). Since things don’t always work as well in practice as they do in theory, most of us would profit from being less theory-oriented and more practice-oriented.
(3) Practicing what we preach. The third meaning of practice has to do with hypocrisy. We should “practice” what we “preach,” as the saying goes. If we don’t live according to our principles, we will deserve nothing but contempt and reproach from those around us.
Finally, however, may I suggest that practice is the key to learning. Whatever the topic, our understanding of it is not likely to grow if we merely sit around and think about it. Study is profitable, but our questions in life are answered not in the study but on the battlefield.
“Try to put well in practice what you already know, and in so doing, you will, in good time, discover the hidden things you now inquire about. Practice what you know, and it will help to make clear what now you do not know” (Rembrandt).