A friend of mine started working out.

We were teenagers and he was the first of our group to care about looking after himself.

I didn’t notice really. He’d always been fit, with some muscle tone, but now it was a serious part of who he was. He loved pushing himself, getting stronger, and learning how the body worked.

He loved seeing how he could bring about physical changes, how he was in charge of the shape of his arms and legs and chest. It wasn’t an ego thing by any means, he was a wonderfully down to earth guy. But he liked to see the change.

I didn’t see it. I wasn’t exactly measuring his biceps regularly, so there wasn’t much change to me. I was much more interested in watching Adam Sandler movies and playing Mario Kart with the guy.

But we had some other friends, ones we’d only see once in a while.

They’d act as if he’d change species on the rare instances that we saw them.

They’d only see this friend of mine every few months. So every encounter with them would bring about appreciation for the change he was going through.

I didn’t see it. Frankly, I didn’t really get it.

“How impressive is that?!”

“Um, yeah I guess, hasn’t he always looked like that though?”

My friend knew exactly what changes he was going through. He was keeping track of everything, and set himself goals and would celebrate each one, big and small.

The friends he would see regularly would likewise notice.

But not me. I felt bad sometimes. He and I would spend hours a day talking, watching movies, playing games, and I still couldn’t see what everyone else did.

He was transforming to everyone except those closest to him.

A few years after he started his routine of exercise and weight-training, I was looking at some old photos.

I saw friends from whom I’d drifted, other whom I was still friendly with, and a few who were perhaps the most important in my life. One photo caught my eye. There was someone familiar but it took me a few moments to realise who it was.

It was my friend. Whip thin. Tiny. Weak. Happy, but small.

The version of him in the photo looked like the brother who was kept under the stairs of the version of him I now knew.

I finally saw it, I finally saw the change he’d worked so hard for. It’d taken him years, and for years I didn’t notice.

I was too close, too familiar, to notice.

But then in a moment it became so obvious.

Honing a craft is much the same.

Working on it daily brings negligent change.

It can be horribly deflating. We could spend years working on something we love and feel as if we’re not improving. We might notice that we avoid some of the old mistakes we use to make, but growth? Meh, no chance. We’re still far behind our heroes, far behind work that is truly good, far behind our taste.

Others might try to encourage you and say you’re bounding forward!

But you won’t notice. You’re too close to your own work. It’s inescapable, I’m afraid.

All you can hope is that one day you’ll be looking at old photos and notice that what was once weak was now strong.