August 12, 2017

Stop making excuses and do the things you suck at

Embrace the n00b inside of you

A friend of mine was recently talking about getting into running in order to keep fit and healthy. He’d previously done weights but has been in search of some form of cardio to add to his work-out routine.

This wasn’t the first time we’d had this conversation. This friend has been considering taking up running for years.

Sound familiar? I’m sure you can think of at least one thing you’ve always wanted to try, but haven’t. You probably have a ton of excuses as to why: too busy, unsure where to start, too expensive, worried about the side effects, decided it’s not a priority and it goes on and on.

His reason for not biting the bullet and going for a run?

“I suck so much at running” — he said.

We all suck at things we’ve never tried. Never played frisbee before? You probably suck at it. Never coded a web page before? It’s likely you’ll struggle your first time.

I’ve noticed that there’s two main categories in why we decide not to pursue something:

We genuinely don’t want to or aren’t interestedWe feel we’re not good enough to try

I genuinely don’t want to and am not interested in ever learning how to tie my shoelaces with my toes. If there’s something you don’t enjoy or don’t want to do — that’s OK. No one is pressuring or forcing you to. Number 1 probably applies to the majority of skills you’ve never learned.

Lets say my friend tried running — like, really gave it a good go — but discovered he didn’t enjoy it or that it wasn’t for him. Unless his goal in life is to run 10 marathons, he should probably quit. Forcing ourselves to do things we don’t enjoy makes it into a chore, and nobody likes chores.

Number 2 however is an excuse. It’s what puts us off doing that one thing we really want to try, sometimes for years. 

We seem to have forgotten that it’s OK to be a n00b and that everyone starts out as a beginner. Instead perfectionism takes over and holds us back from trying new things. We feel pressure to be good from day one.

I replied to my friend: “I suck at yoga. That’s why I do it, to get better at it”.

Enjoying it will make it easier to improve, but shouldn’t be relied on. I practiced violin for 15 years, starting when I was three years old. Did I enjoy every second I played? No. But my drive to get better at it is what kept me showing up every day to practice.

In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice in an activity to become a master. Michael Phelps wasn’t born a world-class swimmer. At age 7 he was still too afraid to put his head underwater.

Before I took up design, I sucked at it. I knew nothing about typography, responsive design, patterns, components, grids, interactivity or user experience. I was like a child with Microsoft paint, drawing squiggly lines and not having any understanding of what the term ‘white space’ meant.

The unknown is what instils curiosity. Not knowing what I could become encouraged me to find out. That’s how I ended up one day taking an online course on design.

If you’re reading this it’s likely you’ve already mastered a skill. Perhaps you haven’t put in 10,000 hours yet, but you’re pretty close. These 10,000 hours are hours of dedicated practice — of trial and error, failing and succeeding, improving, exploring and playing.

Once you reach mastery, you stop showing up to practice. Instead, you show up to refine. Phelps doesn’t need to practice his butterfly kick any more, he’s got the technique down. Instead he refines and fine-tunes it until that technique is absolutely flawless.

Practice is for improvement. Refinement is what gets us closer to perfectionism.

Do the things you suck at. Yes, make time to continue refining the things you’ve mastered, but practice what you’re not good at.

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