A man and a woman who looked to be in their late 20s stood beside their car with Wisconsin plates in the Reservoir Ridge Natural Area parking lot in Colorado. They were each wearing enormous and expensive backpacks that hung heavy past their waists, weighed down with gear. Their three dogs were also wearing packs full of gear, strapped around their canine torsos. Wow, I thought, these people are for real. I assumed they were going back country camping, deep into the mountain range in the distance.
It started to sprinkle shortly after Micah and I got on the trail. A light mist fell on my t-shirt and shorts. I glanced behind me and saw the couple already suited up in rain jackets. I could barely see the woman's sunglasses through her tightly hooded face. They're just really prepared, I thought. But after thirty minutes of casually sauntering about on what amounted to a gentle and scenic trail the couple headed back to their car. What? Already? Why on earth did they have all that gear? Micah and I laughed, befuddled.
I'm not sure why they thought they needed enough gear to get them through a zombie apocalypse. Maybe this was their first foray on a Colorado hiking trail and they read somewhere it's best to be prepared. For living off the grid? Or perhaps they were seduced by an REI catalogue that convinced them owning a ton of high end gear would instantly make them something other than what they clearly were: amateurs.
I write this as one who knows the seduction of wanting to skip from being an amateur straight to being an established writer. The space between just starting out and having a mountain of work under our belts feels cavernous. Every book on writing, creativity, or learning a knew skill says it's important to honor the process. Process is really just code for being OK with sucking. 90% of what we make is crap, says Austin Kleon in Show your work!: 10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered. There's no way around it. No amount of fancy gear or expensive classes or mentoring will change this. At the end of the day we all go the same way: from amateur to struggling a little less to occasionally stumbling on something truly magnificent. There's no such thing as an instant success, says Kleon. Everyone who's anyone lives by the 90% rule, powering through the not-so-great stuff for those moments that truly shine.
I'm grateful to have shared the hiking trail with the couple from Wisconsin. Living in the Mountain West one usually finds oneself recreating next to ultra marathoners, Olympic level cross country skiers, and elite mountain climbers. They blow past me as I shuffle along on my cross country skies. They create their own wind (and dust wakes) as they race along on their mountain bikes. I huff and puff my way up the incline behind them. It's good to remember these fearless trail warriors began as amateurs, too. And it's heartening to know we all go the same way: from amateurs fumbling about to fearless creatives making nothing short of magic 10% of the time.