When the video game Rock Band became popular, kids flocked to music lessons, inspired to learn how to really play the songs they’d been jamming out to with instrument-like controllers.
But, they quit as quickly as they’d started, disappointed to find that mastering an actual instrument was a lot harder than smashing buttons on a plastic toy.
As C.S. Lewis observed, this kind of disappointment “occurs on the threshold of every human endeavor. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted . . . by Stories of the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.”
Amidst this transition, two things collide.
The first is an idealized vision of what an endeavor will be like, made up of the highlights of the process (buying a new guitar; sinking three-pointers; getting into the flow of writing) and the consummate outcome (slaying a solo; wearing a championship ring; seeing your novel become a bestseller).
The second is the reality of all the daily, tedious, frustrating work that comes in between those far rarer moments.
When the ideal runs into reality, most people turn back in dismay.
Focused on the realization that the road to their aim is much steeper and rockier than anticipated, they forget the fact that the glory of the destination remains unchanged.
Used to describe the journey to greatness, the Latin phrase per aspera ad astra is often translated as “through hardships to the stars.” It is well to remember, however, that regardless of how much outright adversity you may face on the path to the heavens, there is always one surprisingly strenuous portal to be passed through first: that of garden-variety, workaday disappointment.