To Become Good at Something, You Have To Suck at First
In school and college, I struggled to pay attention during lectures. I found them dull and boring. As a result, my marks were dull and boring.
Until Class Five, I was among the top students. After that, I struggled to remain in the top 15 at school and slid even further in college. Obviously, my parents were disappointed.
The boredom and lack of attention became a pattern. It occurred every time I tried learning something new. Like the guitar, management concepts, or even writing. If I attended classes or workshops, I’d lose focus and daydream.
Yet, I wanted to become a prolific guitar player, management consultant, writer, and so on. That’s like wanting to get to the top of Mount Everest without climbing.
And I know I’m not alone in feeling like this.
How to Avoid Boredom
Here are three reasons why we get bored:
- What we do is so easy that it demands less than 40% of our abilities.
- What we do is so difficult that it stretches us beyond 90-100% of our abilities.
- We keep doing the same things mindlessly.
In other words, we want to avoid anything that makes us feel inadequate. That’s why we give up quickly and begin to chase the next shiny object.
We don’t like downhill roads. We don’t like plateaus.
We don’t want something to be too easy; we don’t want to suck at it either.
But here’s the thing. If you don’t suck at something, how will learn? And if you don’t work consistently on it even when you’re sucking, how will you get better at it?
Each time you learn a new skill or you skill up, you will suck. You may suck less as your competence increases, but you’ll suck nonetheless.
The key is to embrace this suck, to find tiny moments of joy in it so that the uncomfortable feeling becomes bearable. That way, you can show up consistently, apply yourself mindfully to the task, and reap the rewards of compounding.
You might stay on a plateau for long durations in this phase. It will appear like nothing is happening. But like the price of a good stock, your abilities will skyrocket unexpectedly.
What To Do When You’re Sucking
I’m learning the classical guitar right now. I’m struggling to read staff notes, maintain the correct position of my picking hand, and pick the strings with the right fingers.
Basically, I’m sucking. So here’s what I do to make it bearable.
I transfer each concept from the workbook into my notebook by hand. This helps me understand them better.
Sometimes while practicing, I play notes randomly from different exercises rather than following the pattern in the workbook. This helps me recognize notes better.
After 30 minutes of practice, I play songs that I know, which means I end the session on a positive note. And at the end of the day, I revisit my notes. This keeps me in a good mood and makes me want to return to practice the next day.
Each time I have a good practice session, I feel good about myself. If I have a bad session, I remind myself that while I’m sucking now, I won’t suck at it after a week. I’ll suck at something else. And sucking at something new is a sign that you’re making progress.
Now, I find myself picking up the guitar more frequently just to try out some exercises for a few minutes.
I also find myself behaving the way I used to when I began playing the guitar two decades ago. Like in those days, I subconsciously play the air guitar at random times during the day. (While writing this article alone, I caught myself playing the air guitar thrice.)
Mastery is a goalless pursuit. It’s about pushing yourself to improve each time you achieve a satisfactory level of competence. It’s about being a lifelong learner.
Mastery gives you purpose and puts you in a state of bliss. If you want to get here, you need to embrace the suck.
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