The myth of the montage

Posted June 9, 2023 · 1 min read

I'm a sucker for a good montage. There's something strangely compelling about seeing time collapse on a screen, somehow living weeks in the span of seconds. All at once, Mulan is a successful fighter. All at once, the Kim family's scheme succeeds. All at once, Andy becomes fashionable.

Reality is a lot more painstaking than that. I recently watched "Hustle" with Louise, and during the extremely lengthy training montage, all I could think was: This would be so grueling to actually go through. Time doesn't shrink when you're the one running up the hill at 5:30 A.M. — in fact, it expands.

And yet… the myth of the montage, the "all at once" proposition, is so seductive to me. Not that I could literally accomplish something in one day, but that I would someday have an uninterrupted stretch of time and the capability to [read "Infinite Jest"][clean my entire house][learn French]. In the case of French, I came as close to that as I possibly could — I lived in Quebec, speaking exclusively French, while taking French classes — and it still wasn't enough. Why not? Because I only did that for five weeks. It's just not possible to learn a language all at once.

I feel this especially with my writing — since I've grown accustomed to writing and publishing a post in one sitting, I rarely do it. It's an all-or-nothing situation that, more often than not, turns into nothing. With reading, on the other hand, I feel as though I've been able to read as much as I have only because I've read consistently for 10 years. I'd have to read a lot if I wanted to replicate that in a short timeframe.

My reminder to myself instead is that consistency beats intensity. I think consistency is often harder, because it requires that you show up day after day, in the most unglamorous of circumstances. The Financial Independence/Retire Early community has a term they call "the boring middle", which refers to the years (often decades) spent working and investing money before they can retire… to which someone else nearly invariably responds: "The boring middle is your life."


Julia Cooke © 2023