When I was a young teen I decided that I wanted to play the guitar. Two of my siblings were already very talented musicians and I thought that I might be able to join them. My dad got me a guitar and a book that would teach me how to play chords. I got my first lesson with an excellent teacher who showed me the basics and how by doing the exercises in the book for two weeks I would be ready for the next step.
If you have ever tried playing the guitar you will know that pinching the metal strings down is very hard at first and that getting your fingers to be in exactly the correct position can be extremely challenging. I got frustrated quickly. After failing to get the positions right a few times I started to figure out shortcuts that would let me play the basic chords I needed to play in a way that was much easier on my fingers. I practiced and reinforced my shortcuts and became proficient in my newly invented method of playing. Seemed like a win! When it came time for my next lesson I realized that it was not a win at all. My teacher explained that the positioning that I had innovated made it impossible to switch quickly enough between chords, and incredibly difficult to build on the chords that I knew. My shortcut to proficiency had reinforced all the wrong habits. I got frustrated again and a guitar sat collecting dust in my room for a long time after.
I think that this can be an important analogy to spiritual growth. Sometimes we see mitzvot in the Torah that we would like to embrace. We commit to doing it, and then it becomes difficult. Shabbat is an amazing Mitzvah, but can’t I take a shortcut here and there? Kosher can make a mundane activity like eating a source of meaning every day. Blessings before and after food can help me be a more gracious person and elevate my day. Does it really matter what level Kosher supervision it is? Does it really matter what blessing I make and when? If I make the wrong blessing, doesn't the Almighty get the point that I am trying to be thankful? Does it matter where your index finger is for the A-minor chord? It doesn't seem to matter much until you get deeper into the music. Doing a mitzvah can be compared to creating spiritual music: details can make a huge difference.
I don’t play guitar today because I thought that I was smarter than both the teacher and the book. My advice to new learners? Find a teacher who can be a role model and a book that you respect and believe in. Challenge your teachers and books relentlessly. When you are comfortable, respect the process that made your teachers and role models who they are.