Hurry Up and Wait
“抓紧时间” translates literally “hold tightly to time” and colloquially means “hurry up” or “make haste.”
The nature of time has always been a tricky issue for me. “Hurry” was a common refrain growing up. I was raised believing that if I was on time, I was late — not in terms of appointments, but in terms of academic achievement.
For instance, in middle school, students could take “regular” or “honors” courses, with the latter being considered more advanced. Students who were in “honors” essentially learned the next grade’s curriculum. But, while most students would be happy to know that they were challenging themselves, there was a “shadow” nexus operating outside of official timelines.
This shadow world was one in which students learned in advance of taking the classes in school, either through self-study or private tutors. So, when they started the actual course in school, they would have fully learned all of the information, thus all but guaranteeing an excellent grade. In extreme cases, students would have access to the textbooks used in class, so that they could even complete the homework assignments months ahead of time.
This system is why I always felt simultaneously underprepared and overprepared during the academic year, and why I never equated the summer months with summer vacation. There was always some workbook to get through or a resource to memorize, all for the sole purpose of being ahead of my classmates who didn’t do the extra work. (Or, as I was led to believe, in order to keep up with everyone who was putting in the extra time).
All this additional time spent studying ahead certainly did help my grades, but it didn’t really help me understand how to manage my time in school. It didn’t ever make me feel like I had accomplished enough or earned any rest. It was as if I was trapped in a video game where, no matter how fast I could sprint towards a waypoint, the number never counted down, but counted up.
After I had no more school, I was still bound by the strictures of time. I had, of course, chosen a profession in which time was literally money, and was required to bill an ungodly amount of hours each year just to be considered worthy of being employed. And, while all those years spent learning things “ahead” of time meant that I had what my supervisors described as “learning agility,” it didn’t do me any favors for exercising patience when it came to mental transformation. It turns out, a person can be quite insufferable when they can’t muster up a shred of self-compassion when they can’t master a skill immediately. I had irrational fears turning 25 as much as I did turning 15.
My upbringing emphasized being and staying ahead, but it’s not just that — Society, too, has a way of admiring those who skip timelines. Child prodigies, for example, are celebrated because they seemingly arrived to Carnegie Hall with polished perfect pitches and impeccable intonation. We have “Forbes 30 Under 30,” but perhaps you would be surprised to find out that “10 under 10” exists as an alumni awards program at universities.
Being neither a child prodigy nor a “Forbes 30 Under 30” does not necessarily mean that I see myself as a failure. However, even with all of the growth I’ve experienced, a small part of me today thinks that my self-esteem would require less effort if I had earned awards all before my 10th birthday.
If I somehow learned faster, gotten better faster, and succeeded faster…I would be happier. Sound familiar?
Many athletes are obsessed with achieving success early and often, particularly at the beginning of a jiu jitsu journey. Winning a major title the first year at a new rank is somehow more noble because you’re the underdog that became the topdog (cue 7-day-a-week training montage!). Improve fast, get a pat on the head, and feel good. Repeat.
If someone were to ask me the biggest transformation that I’ve experienced in my martial arts journey, it would be that I now recognize that slow is beautiful.
Imperceptible changes over time inherently have a timeless, beautiful quality to them. When you let go of the need for a certain timeline to your progress and success, an added bonus is that you hardly ever feel pressured to do something. What you get to do is to be something — exactly who you are, right now.
Meaningful progress cannot sustain simply through sheer will and heightened parameters. The law of diminishing marginal returns tells us that.
A harder argument to make is that there should be a limit to our desired rate of change. Putting aside issues of survival, social justice, and scenarios in which inaction would result in potentially irreparable harm, at least when it comes to jiu jitsu, there is no rush.
I cannot say why this should be the case for everyone. But for me, when I really take the time to be present with each moment that occurs in my training, and to embrace both the peaks and valleys, I see that I’m able to integrate my jiu jitsu better as part of my sense of self. I feel all of my emotions more deeply. I see my experience from all angles.
Don’t get me wrong: I am still motivated these days to improve. What’s different is that the feeling comes from a more abundant place. I can believe and trust in my judgment. I feel secure even though I have yet to succeed. I go at my own pace, guided by Faith, the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen.
抓 - “hand” + “claw” 紧 - "2" + “once again” + “little” + “hand” 时 - “sun” + “a unit (of measurement)” 间 - “gate” + “sun”