When I was seven years old, I was lucky enough to take piano lessons with Stanley Hummel. He was a virtuoso pianist who had been top of his class at Juilliard. And he happened to live around the corner from me.
I wanted to play the piano like Mr. Hummel, to make my left hand rumble and my right hand sing. But no amount of trying was going to make that happen. I was going to have to practice, to play thousands of scales and hundreds of technical exercises. To work my way up from simple songs to something written by a master.
Practice is based on the principle of indirection. Indirection invites us to do things we can do now (play scales) that will help us become the kind of people in the future (virtuosos) who can do things we could never do today (play a Beethoven concerto or a Scott Joplin rag). You get to your end result indirectly, because the direct route is impossible.
It turns out I didn’t become a virtuoso pianist like Mr. Hummel. (There’s this thing called talent.) But over my ten years of lessons, I became a pretty decent pianist, someone who was able to proficiently play a solid concerto.
That’s what practice does for us. It takes us toward our ultimate goal. Indirectly. Because sometimes, the long way around is the only way to go.