One way I spend time with my mom is by wrapping wonton dumplings, usually in the late afternoon. Typically, the dining table is equipped with two packs of wonton skins, a bowl of meat filling, and a water dish. We incorporate a nice assembly-line system—my mom puts in the filling, and I do the wrapping.
For the longest time, I was quite horrendous at wrapping these dumplings. This was manifested every time my dad sat down and joined—the discrepancies between his tidy, cookie-cutter dumplings and my shriveled, lopsided ones became clear when our finished products sat juxtaposed on the wooden cutting board. “It’s just my style,” I’d tell my parents. Never in a serious tone, though. We all knew the truth—I couldn’t wrap them well even if I tried.
Or could I? One time, I made a resolution: How about let’s make each dumpling better than the last? It took more time to wrap each dumpling, but I began noticing things I never noticed before. For example, the filling should occupy half the width of the resultant rectangle after the first fold. There was a particular trapezoidal shape for my fingers to follow when pressing down the skin around the filling. The final fold was critical—the top had to be tight to mask the filling, but the bottom had to be open enough to give the dumpling a more welcoming look. Every single dumpling I wrapped, I thought about what parameters I could adjust to improve upon the previous dumpling. The point is not that you understand exactly what I’m talking about… rather, it’s that by actually investing mental effort into improving my folding technique, I was able to push myself to pay attention to the details.
I was getting into my groove when my mom interrupted me, saying something along the lines of “These look really good! You’re growing up!” I looked back at my work, lined up on the wooden cutting board. And it was beautiful—the gradient of improvement from the first dumpling to the last. While the improvement between each dumpling was hardly noticeable, the compounded result was nothing short of astounding.
It’s not exactly like this little story taught me a lesson—everyone knows that focusing on improvement will lead to improvement. It’s more like it served as powerful and concrete evidence to this belief. It’s proof that any little change I make to improve myself in life is worthwhile, and that self-improvement is not just about making drastic and heroic transformations—it’s (arguably) more about persisting through baby steps and gradually building yourself up.
But let’s not let the word “gradually” deter us. “Gradually” does not mean “slowly.” Heck, I improved my dumpling folding skills in a span of 20 minutes. The point is, “gradual” change is not obvious when you’re in the moment, but can reveal itself to be tremendous in long-term retrospect!