When I was a kid, like, single-digits kid, I had a neighbor who was both a teenager and the coolest guy I’d ever known to that point in my life. He knew karate. He had a Nintendo. He had a computer. He even had email… in the eighties.
Most importantly, he had boxes upon boxes of beautiful and perfect comic books. He even drew his own and submitted work to Marvel, DC, etc.
And they wrote back!
I wanted to be just like him.
I started drawing more, practicing art, trying to improve. I practiced my storytelling, too. Someday, he would run his own comic company, and when he did, I would work there. That was the plan.
Then he told me the only way to get as good as him was to ignore everything else and draw constantly, even during school. “What about my grades?” I asked him. “You can’t worry about grades if you’re going to get good enough to be a professional artist.”
I was crushed.
I liked earning good grades.
I even liked my teachers.
Enter one of my first secret rules: I would never be good enough at art to make it a career.
That secret rule held for about 30 years.
Then I started trying again.
And not by sacrificing everything else important to me, but just by realizing it’s ok to practice just a little every day, to try and improve just a little every day.
I eventually started learning karate, too. Not because of my old neighbor, but because my own kid got involved in a great dojo and I wanted to share that journey.
Our sensei often talks about the concept of “kaizen”: basically, constant (little) improvements that add up to great change.
Now I try to improve a little bit every day, making small sacrifices for time, sure, but not giving up on the most important parts of my life. Will I become a master overnight? Of course not. And honestly, neither did my old neighbor. If he’s the kind of artist I want to be, he’s still out there learning somewhere, still finding the little tweaks in his work to make it even better. He’s still trying to be just a little bit better every day.
I try to practice kaizen now in all areas of my life. The result isn’t flashy. It doesn’t make for a great Instagram post or YouTube video, but it’s there, and it’s building a solid mountain of progress over time.
In the meantime, I just keep trying to be a little better than yesterday, leading to being a good deal better than last month, and miles ahead of last year. I’m slowly building to success—my vision of success—and instead of racing to get there I’m enjoying the ride.
And I can wait to get there.
Life goes by too quickly because we rush it.
I’m going a little at a time now, enjoying myself along the way.