You Can’t Get Good Without Sucking

Posted by in Education

If there is one thing we should learn during our childhood, it should be that taking a lot of chances is a good thing. However, I think this is actually beaten out of us throughout our education system.

We’re trained to think that failing is a bad thing, which in turn makes us play it safe. This relates to my last post on a risk-averse middle class . We’re trained not to take chances, because when you take chances, you may fail.

The problem is, taking chances is the only way to become good. You have to suck at certain points to get good in the long run.

To look at this a bit deeper, I have a couple much more successful people than I to reference:

What Does It Mean to Take a lot of Chances?

The other week I was listening to Seth Godin on Tim Ferriss’ podcast, and Seth had an excellent section on coming up with ideas. They were talking about people who would like to get into entrepreneurship, but this can relate to almost any realm. Writing, art, music, sports, dating, or anything where you want to get good at something.

To paraphrase Seth, he said that if you ask someone who says they don’t have any good ideas if they have any bad ideas, they’ll likely say no. However, if you ask someone who has a lot of good ideas if they have bad ideas, they say yes. Most likely, they will claim to have a lot more bad ideas than good ones.

With anything that turned out to be a good idea, if you look behind the curtain, there’s probably ten times more bad ideas and rough drafts then there is that one good idea.

Let’s look at a few more examples.

This one you may know, but in 1923, Babe Ruth broke the record for the most home runs in a season. That same year he broke the record for the highest batting average. That is one hell of a year. Not only was he smashing home runs more than anyone ever, but he was also hitting the ball more often than anyone else has ever hit it.

However, that same year Babe Ruth broke the record for the most strikeouts. That’s called being not afraid to fail or cracking a few eggs to make an omelet.

Keeping the references in the sports realm since it’s such an easy way to understand the concept, you can look at Micheal Jordan, arguably the best basketball player ever to play the game (I don’t know enough to argue Mike vs. Lebron).

I love this quote from Jordan,

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 time, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed

Then to follow the up with another quote from him,

I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.

Obviously, you have to take a lot of shots, which includes missing a lot of shots to become great.

One more basketball reference to drill the point home. Ray Allen, the all-time leading 3-point shooter in the NBA, has taken a lot of shots. On game days would show up at the arena hours early to take up to 300 shots as a pre-game warm up.

That’s just on game days. It’s no coincidence that the best 3-point shooter ever has possibly taken more 3-point shots than anyone else ever.

And to add to that, when Ray Allen was interviewed about when he started to become meticulous about his shooting practice around the age of 25, he said, “I missed a lot.” Allen didn’t begin by being good at 3-pointers. He started by being bad at them, taking a lot of them, to eventually become great at them.

Which brings me to my next point.

You Can’t Wait to Become Good Enough

A lot of us have a fear of failure. We want to be good at something before we try it, so we don’t have to suck. But you have to suck to become good.

An interesting fact about learning is the learning curve looks almost exactly the same for any skill:learning-curve

When you start out with something, you can pick it up pretty quickly to a point. You learn a few initial basic concepts and actually know way more than you did before.

However, you eventually hit a point where the initial concepts don’t take you any further. This is the dip in the graph above. Your confidence drops because you are just knowledgeable enough about the subject to know how much you suck at it.

This is where almost everyone stops. You learn just enough to see how much you don’t know. That dip sucks, and it can last a bit of time. To make it to that inflection point, you have to suck for a while.

You have to continue to work hard, take a lot of shots, but suck while doing it. This is extremely tough and why most people have a hard time sticking to new things, whether it’s learning another language, starting a business, becoming good at a sport, or anything that involves learning.

There’s ways to make the dip suck less, like incentivizing yourself to get through it, having friends do it with you and a few other hacks. But it’s still going to hurt at points, and you’ll often doubt yourself through it.

This is where simple hard work and perseverance can make a world of difference. This is where taking a lot of shots helps, but is tough to keep up.

However, once you reach that inflection point and eventually get up to proficiency, you become good or great at the skill. The funny thing is, we often time look at the greats and forget they had to go through this learning curve just as we did. Sometimes they did it as children or in an environment where we aren’t as worried about sucking and failing, but they went through it.

We can’t forget that the greats took a lot of shots and sucked at one point.

If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all. – Michelangelo

None of the greats waited until they were great to start being great… it just doesn’t work like that.

But that’s not the only thing we have to overcome on a path to becoming great at something. The learning curve above is a bit off. It’s way too smooth.

You Have to Trust in the Compounding Effect

That learning curve looks nice and smooth. It’s like once you hit that inflection point, it’s just smooth sailing up the exponential curve, surfing on the compounding effects of all your hard work in the past.

The truth is, it’s never really smooth sailing. There’s good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, and even sometimes good hours and bad hours within a day.

This means you have to have faith in the compounding effect. The theory that all your hard work and learning compounds upon itself for exponential growth over a year and longer.

If you were to zoom in on that learning curve above, it would look more like this:Curve with dips copy

While on the grander scale everything is moving upwards, there are significant dips from time to time. These are the bad days. The days where you just can’t hit a shot, where the server crashes and your website is down, where you launch something and no one responds.

It’s in these days where you have to remind yourself that if you keep working, learning, and being inspired that you will eventually continue the upward trend. You have to believe that all the work you’ve done in the past wasn’t a waste. My dad always told me when playing basketball

The only way to get out of a slump is to keep shooting

I have these days all the time. Sometimes it’s just a stream of thoughts that last until I get coffee and go through my morning routine. It’s these thoughts that make my morning routine so important. Going over my goals, journaling on gratefulness, meditating, they all help deal with these type of thoughts.

Thoughts that I have no idea what I’m doing happen almost daily. There’s a lot of “I hope this works.”

However, whenever I do my quarterly reviews, there’s always an upward trend. Even though I may have thought during that quarter that everything was going to crash and burn and that I have no idea what I’m doing, at the end of the quarter, I’m farther ahead than I was at the start of the quarter.

This is simply from taking a lot of shots. Trying different things within the businesses, like new marketing channels or A/B testing copywriting. There’s always something new to try. Some work, others don’t. But overall, the ones that work drive the business.

This blog is Cory and I taking shots. Some posts hit and get a lot of attention on Facebook and comments on the post, others get crickets. You never really know until you give it a try. Who knows, at about 1,500 words now, I may have lost most of the readers. Oh well.

The Big Caveat, Simply Failing Doesn’t Make You Better

I want to end this with a word of warning. Simply trying something and failing doesn’t make you naturally better at it. You don’t actually learn lessons from the act of failing.

Why is this? Because we are humans who want to feel good about ourselves. One of our core desires is to feel important and have self-worth. But if we are failing, that makes it harder to feel good about ourselves.

When we try something, no matter the outcome, we tell ourselves a narrative that will make us feel the best about ourselves.

Here is a quote from the book Smartcuts by Shane Snow:

“When interpreting their own failures,” Staats explains, “individuals tend to make external attributions, pointing to factors that are outside of their direct control, such as luck. As a result, their motivation to exert effort on the same task in the future is reduced.”

We want to feel good about ourselves. So that means when something doesn’t go right, we naturally don’t assume responsibility. You can overhear this going on all over the place. After any sporting event, just listen to the losing team.

If the ref had made the right call… if we had all our players… you can always here the blame going outwards.

It’s rare for someone to take responsibility and say, “I am the reason for the failure.” Yet this is what’s needed to learn from our mistakes. This is why I do weekly and quarterly reviews.

I have prompted questions asking what didn’t go as planned and what I could have done to avoid it. Reflecting on mistakes and asking yourself what you could have done forces you to take responsibility, which then leads to growth.

Without reflection, we don’t learn lessons, and we don’t get to see that although there were tough times, taking a lot of shots and putting in a lot of work actually leads to improvement. You just have to pick your head up every once and a while to see it.