How to not suck at stuff

Let's face it; you suck at lots of stuff.  Well, I do anyway.  I presume lots of people are just like me in that respect.  We want to be, at least good at things.  It's often important to us that we don't suck.  In our jobs.  In our sporting endeavours.  When we are looking to make a career change.

There have been many books, articles, presentations, talks, videos, blogs, quotes, coaching lessons and mentor tips on how to become an expert at things. Here's what I have learned over the years, in business and in life.

If you want to not suck at stuff: -

It is more important to try, than it is to try to be perfect

As we go through life, we come across new things.  We try these new things.  In the beginning we can't do these new things all that well.  Ignore that.  Ignore how bad you are when you are just beginning.  Everyone starts off at some level of suckiness.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book "Outliers: The story of success", claims that it takes 10000 hours to become an expert at something.  10000 hours, assuming you can spend maybe 10 hours per week on any given endeavour, equates to about 19 years.  Even if you spend 20 hours per week, that's still around 9.5 years of being sucky on some level. The thing is, it's not important how long it will take to become an expert.  Just get started.

You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start, to be great - Zig Ziglar

Don't wait until you are an expert, because by the time you are an expert, you will have missed what ever opportunities were there.

I'm learning to write articles.  This is my fourth article, so I still suck a bit.  That's OK though, because I will keep writing articles so I will suck less with each one.  If I get to my 10th article and I still really, really suck, someone please tell me.

Step 1: Just get started.  It really is that simple.

Find ways to build momentum

Getting started is great.  It feels like such an accomplishment.  "I posted my first video on YouTube. Yay!  Let's pop the Champaign!".  It's easy to think that it will all happen for you now.  It won't.

Taking that first step, is just that; the first step.  Now you have to take the second step.  Then the third, the fourth, and so on.  Momentum won't build itself.  You have to build it, deliberately.

Tell other people about your goals.  Don't be annoying about it, but let others know what you are trying to achieve.  Your friends and colleagues will ask you about your progress.  This makes you accountable.  It forces you to keep going.

A few years ago I was training for a marathon.  I would be asked weekly how I was going with training.  It gave me additional motivation.  It helped to build momentum.

I want to start a successful company.  To do that I will need to be able to network effectively.  In a previous post I mentioned I have a deep-seated fear over networking.  So I went a networking event.  That got me started.  Then I went to a few more.  I have now attended maybe a dozen events.  I make sure I continue going to as many events as I can.  I need to build momentum.  I may always feel a little uncomfortable, but I will get better at networking with each event.

It's easy to get discouraged when you look ahead and see how far you may have to go to reach your goal.  You can look back and see how far you have come, if you like.  I prefer to trust in myself that if I work hard enough, I will be better with each effort.

Step 2: Build momentum and work hard to be better than you were yesterday.

Learn from someone who doesn't suck

I'm sure you have heard the saying, "Practice makes perfect".  There's an even better one; "Perfect practice makes perfect".  There is absolutely no point in becoming good and doing something the wrong way.  That's like becoming an expert at sucking at something.  You'll probably want to avoid that if you can.

Unless you are doing something that no-one has ever done before, I mean something completely and utterly new, there are going to be others who are already experts at it.  Find out who they are and copy them.  Let them become your teachers or coaches.  You will find many people willing to share their journeys.

Steve Jobs used the phrase "...standing on the shoulders of giants".  There are many others who have learned how not to suck at the very same thing you are trying very hard to not suck at.  Find out how they did it.  What techniques did they use?  Better yet, find out who they learnt from.

YouTube is a great source for hearing others talk about their journeys.  I regularly watch TED talks or StartupGrind interviews.

Step 3: Learn from the experts.

Being good is good, but being great is awesome

Even if we have some skill, when we want to take ourselves to the next level, we need to learn some new things, and we are going to suck at them for a while.  Going from good to great is often more difficult than going from beginner to good.  The challenges become harder.  The failures bigger.  The work required is much greater.  But in the end, the reward is totally worth it.

I learned to program in a couple of languages a few years ago.  After a while I became better than good.  Along the way, though, challenges would present themselves that made me look like a beginner again.  I had a colleague that was going through the same learning experience I was.  Unfortunately, when presented with challenges that he felt were beyond his skill, he turned away, looking for something easier.  I recognise that these are the challenges that push us beyond being good, and toward being great.

If you're up for some heavy reading, check out Jim Collins' blog on going from good to great.  It focuses on business, but there are some good take-aways for personal development as well.

Step 4: Challenge yourself constantly to become better and don't be afraid to get worse first.

Even experts suck sometimes

Michael Jordan has a famous quote -

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career.  I've lost almost 300 games.  26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot, and missed.  I've failed over and over and over in my life.  And that's why I succeed. - Michael Jordan

Arguably the best NBA player of all time (well, so far anyway), and he still sucked every now and then.  I'm willing to bet that those 26 times he missed the game winning shot, he thought that he sucked big time.  The thing is, he didn't just say "Oh well" and let that be the end of it.  He worked hard to make sure the next time the opportunity arose, that he would be ready.

Being an expert doesn't mean that you have reached the end of your journey.  That you have nothing else to learn.  Or that you no longer need to practice or train.  Far from it.  If you want to be the best, now you have to work hard just to keep ahead of everyone else.

In technology, there is some new development happening on a daily basis.  It's not enough to be an expert on something that was new last year.  You have new things to become an expert at.

Step 5: Continue to work hard, even after you become an expert.


It doesn't sound too scientific, but it doesn't sound too easy either.  That's not the point though.

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