I've changed inerests and areas quite a few times in my life, professionally aswell as personally.. I've been seriosely into photography for the past 2 years and I'm about to start-up my first lab and initiate myself on a print making journey.
As a trained professional musician (and in other inquiries of life) I came to the conslusion that progress at a skill is alot like the famouse mathematical conundrum of always travelling a fraction of the distance between you and your destination. (Your a mile away from your destination and then you walk until you're only half a mile away. You walk again but you're just a 1/4 of a mile away. You walk again but now you only get 1/8 of a mile away. etc..). You never truely get there, but then again, how much fun would that really be?
Closer, but not quite there, ever... That sounds very much like athleticism or any other type of practice that requires skill. I like your analogy, and yes - it is more fun to experience a light bulb moment here and there. Like, the dog may be old but is still barking...
"...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera".
- Yousuf Karsh
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit".