In anything, be it music, weight loss, or mastering any task at all. (I’m constantly fascinated by the endless ways in which life is nothing more than just different instantiations of the exact same underlying things.)
The above article just made me think of how people imagine virtuoso musicians. When you hit Sarah Chang’s level, somehow people think it all just flows naturally for you. They don’t realize that maintaining that sort of mastery involves an enormous amount of effort just to stand still much less improve. In other words, you’d better love the effort more than the results.
A quote often (mis)attributed to various virtuoso pianists runs, “If I don’t practice for a day, I can tell. If I don’t practice for two days, my wife can tell. If I don’t practice for three days, the audience can tell.” Even someone at the Andre Watts/Robert Levin/Valentina Lisitsa level can’t take a long weekend without feeling it! Chang herself has said that even after a day-long plane flight where she gets to her hotel room and wants nothing more than to fall over, she will still take out her violin and go through her scales before collapsing.
The amount of effort needed to maintain that level of skill is immense. It doesn’t get easier. The better you are, the better you get at maintaining that level of effort. Perlman will never be able to “take it easy.” These are simply mortal people who do that level of work without question, not a separate species of magic people for whom that level of work isn’t needed.
If you think that you can hit a certain milestone and not lose ground if you stop working, you’re kidding yourself. Stop whining that it never gets easier and get to work.