I remember seeing this expression on a motivational poster decades ago, where a runner is shown in full stride with no one else in sight. The others gave up before going the second mile. I’ve known both mid- to long-distance runners, and most of them wouldn’t bother to lace up just to do a mile. But what the expression originally refers to has nothing about recreational runnning.
Origin of the Expression
Going the Second Mile has Roman and Biblical roots. One of the feats of the Roman empire was to create an elaborate road network not previously seen in the ancient world. The expression “Many roads lead to Rome” comes from that. Because Rome ruled much of the world, any Roman soldier or citizen could ask anyone traveling along the road to help carry his/her load for exactly one mile. In Matthew 5:41, Jesus tells anyone who is so asked to go two miles. Jesus could have said just go an extra 100 yards, but he makes it clear we are to go far beyond what is expected!
Inspiration to Carry On
I think about this instruction when inspiration is lacking, and the urge to quit is swelling! Sometimes the burden seems too heavy, and getting done sounds good. I won’t lie, I often feel that it’s hard to keep going and I just want to quit early. That’s true whether I’m trying to make my step count for the day, finishing up work on the computer, or getting a piece in shape on the music bench. I try to keep thinking how good it will be to complete that second mile, and often it works!
The Struggle of Piano Students
I’ve seen the same struggle at work in my piano students, particularly as they arrive into the early intermediate repertoire, where pieces double in length and become more complex between the hands. Some of them come to lessons with a first-mile attitude. You can see it when they come in saying they only practiced hands separately, or that they haven’t gotten far through their piece.
To be fair, there are some advanced pieces that require several weeks to get through. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about bringing a beginner mindset to intermediate pieces. They haven’t fully embraced arriving at the higher level.
However, some of my students don’t seem phased by longer and harder pieces. They try their best, and they sometimes surprise me at how far they’ve gotten or the achievement they’ve shown. They’ve learned the secret that a piece double the length isn’t necessarily double the work.
Lots of those passages repeat. They are much better readers than they used to be and can cover more measures in a practice session than they used to be able to cover. They’re okay with certain passages being complex and don’t just stop and give up when they encounter a hard passage. They know I’m here to help them figure those out.
What are your struggles in going the second mile? Where do you find it easy or difficult to go on?