When I asked my colleague Yari how one of this classes went, he replied, “They’re stumbling towards progress.” Ka-ching!! How well those words describe most of our lives! That long list of things that we staggered through, but kept going anyway and eventually improved, be it an inch or a mile. The “stumble” affirms our collective frailty, the vulnerable imperfections we all share but would rather not discuss, and the “progress” reveals the fruits of perseverance.
The phrase reminds me of another one that sits in the middle of a list of Five Steps To Mastery. I’ve written of this before as a guide to useful assessment of student progress, as follows:
1. Unconscious Incompetence:We don’t know something and don’t even know we don’t know it. (Likewise for all that follows, “can’t do something and don’t know we can’t do it.”)
2. Conscious Incompetence: We don’t know something and are painfully aware that we don’t know it.
3. Awkward Practice: We have the tools to improve and begin to use them, but still are not quite there.
4. Conscious Mastery: With focused attention,we can do it and are fully aware that we can do it.
5. Unconscious Mastery: It is so wholly a part of ourselves that we can do it without thought and don’t feel it as anything special.
I love this list, but the terms are rather abstract. So my new version is more kinetic:
1) Flailing in Chaos
2) Faltering and Falling
3) Stumbling Towards Progress
4) Walking Towards Progress
5) Dancing in Mastery
As the year draws to a close, it’s a good tool to look back and consider: Where am I still flailing? Where I am still failing and falling? Where and how did I stumble my way towards a bit of progress? Where did I set my sights and walk purposefully forward in a disciplined practice? Where and how am I finally dancing?
The poet W.H. Auden preceded these thoughts some eighty years ago in this excerpt from his poem Atlantis:
Honor the fate you are,
Travelling and tormented,
Dialectic and bizarre.
Stagger onward rejoicing;