I think it’s interesting to mention how this article came to be. Believe it or not, it all started with one of Joe Rogan’s podcasts. Suddenly, I’ve just heard Joe shouting “Do something that you suck at!”, “Try something that you never tried before!”, “Go back to zero and start from scratch!”, yadda yadda yadda. And it kind of stuck with me. Why so? Well, I think it’s just that I generally hate doing things that I’m bad at. And this one just seemed to hit a nerve on me and make me ponder.
Hence, I started that awkward process of introspection. As in – why do I hate doing things that I suck at? Well, I hate them, that’s for sure. But why? Going one level deeper, the answer that I wasn’t happy about was – because I’m anxious. Oh shit, here it comes … you know that feeling when you step into a dog’s crap and you are like – jeez, I so wish this isn’t happening right now! Okay, so I’m anxious. But why? Well, I’m anxious because I’m scared of embarking on the journey of learning something new. But why? Well, I’m afraid that I won’t be able to learn how to be good at it and that I will suck. But why? Because I have this irrational assumption that I should only be doing things that I’m good at and I’m afraid of starting from square one! Bang! That’s it … oh my dear perfectionism …
(By the way, in case you didn’t know, there’s this great technique called “Five Whys“. The idea is that, by asking five consecutive WHYs, you usually end up at the root cause. It’s a great technique that you can use in any situation – business, life, relationships, … anything really).
Speaking of sucking
I briefly touched on the similar subject in another article where I wrote about the creativity. But I’ll elaborate a bit more here. Let me drive you back to your early childhood. As in – the first year or so after you were born. The very moment you came to this world, you sucked at EVERYTHING! Literally. As in – you sucked at every god damn thing that you could imagine. You weren’t able to feed yourself, walk or do just about anything that you take for granted now. And yet, you did it. What’s the secret? Curiosity!
Curiosity is what allowed you to evolve from sucking at just about every damn thing you could imagine. But how so? Well, you enjoyed the process in the first place. You didn’t feel bad about having to do something you haven’t done before. You just kept failing & repeating until you got it right; or got bored in the process.
This curiosity is one of the things that allowed our ancestors to move out of caves, start producing tools and explore new areas! Just imagine if things were different at the time and if our predecessors were like – “you know man, we’ve got it pretty warm here, we can hunt and survive … why bother trying new stuff and risking a failure, eh?” You’d still be dining a mammoth or some shitty bird, instead of having a nice bowl of pasta and a pancake!
When did we lose it?
A natural question to ask ourselves is – at which point do we lose that childhood curiosity? When do we even become aware of the word “sucking at something”? At which god damn point does curiosity turn into a fear of unknown? And at what point does the stigma of not being good at something becomes a negative personality trait? Again, I have no official proof, but I have an opinion on it 🙂
My belief is that, as we grow up and as we start exploring the world, we remain naturally curious. We observe challenges and unknowns as fun things to do and we generally enjoy trying and failing. Because we see it as a playful and fun act.
However, around the time when we start going to school, we learn of the notion of “being bad at something”. But, and here’s the trick, it’s not just about being bad per se, but it’s about putting a negative marker on it. As in – if you suck at math, and by “suck” I mean – your peers are doing better job then you are, you get awarded with a bad grade. And you slowly start learning that not being good at something induces criticism and shame. I strongly believe that’s a first occurrence of this stupid behaviour.
It doesn’t stop there. Bad grades usually lead to disappointment from the exact same people who used to be your primary role models throughout your childhood. Those who (hopefully) used to nurture and cherish your playfulness and curiosity. Yes, I’m talking about parents here.
So what happens is – you go to school, you demonstrate a lack of knowledge in a specific area and instead of getting support to help you get better at it, you get rewarded with criticism. Rinse & repeat. And there you have it – perfect Curiosity Killer 101 recipe.
Speaking of talent
I want to briefly touch on another topic as well – talent. I’m sure you know at least person for whom you can say – yeah, they have a natural talent for it. And “it” can be anything, from painting, through maths, all the way to playing music and sports. We just observe the people being great and something and we just assume that they were “born with it” and we just move on. But that’s wrong, and I’ll tell you why.
I read a great book on this subject recently –The Talent Code. In it, the author attacks the myth of talent and talented people. What he does is basically a study where he goes to number of, so called, talent hotbeds, which are really places that produce bunch of great talent in wide variety of areas. What he finds out is that, most of the people who eventually grow to be great at something (e.g. sports, music, etc.) simply invest numerous hours into doing it. Rinse & repeat. And they never get criticised for a failure.
Imagine a kid learning to play a piano. In the beginning, the kid will suck. As in – won’t be able to properly do three key strokes in a row. But is that kid awarded with a bad grade? Of course not. Why would they be? If you’re a teacher, you just help them keep practicing until they get better. So, what the author concludes eventually is that the talent is not born, but is rather grown. Hence, there is no such thing as natural born talent. The only way to become talented at something is to fail at it. A lot. Does that even make it a failure after all? I doubt so!
A personal example
Let me give you a personal example as well. During my teenage years, I was pretty good at programming and making computers do stuff. It made everyone assume that I just had a natural talent for it. As in – I was born with a natural talent for programming. I’m sure at least couple of evolutionary biologists are rolling in their grave now by the sheer thought of this stupidity.
The real version of the story is – I was introduced to computers at a very young age. Think like 6 years, give or take, but it was definitely before I started an elementary school. And this happened by pure accident. My parents were visiting some friends and they brought me with them. There was this guy who was studying math at the time, and he was tasked with keeping me occupied for a bit. So he’s like – wanna play some games? And I’m like – sure (curiosity, at it’s finest!). And he starts the computer and, to this day, I can remember him writing “nc” in MS DOS prompt. And this started this blue program titled “Norton Commander”. And that, ladies and gents, that moment, as stupid as it sounds, instilled this magic of a command that does something! I was stunned. Perplexed. You name it, and I was it!
It was soon after that I started bothering my parents to get me a computer. I wanted to be able to do the same thing as that guy did. The problem was that computers used to be quite expensive at the time. Somehow, though, my dad found a way to keep me intrigued. I still can’t remember clearly how he did it, but he managed to find some book about programming in BASIC and he told me that I have to learn what binary numbers are and stuff like that. Only after that would I be entitled to get a computer. Well, challenge accepted man!
So I eventually get my first computer (PC 286, as I used to call it) and I start spending so much time trying to do all kinds of crazy shit from this book, that my parents eventually decide that they have to limit my PC time. And this is a second defining moment here really. So I had a curiosity (“nc” command that opens something), a task that I wanted to solve (learn how to use that) and I was forbidden to do it for more than couple of hours a day, which just made it even damn more interesting.
Eventually it all boils down to the fact that, due to a weird combination of circumstances, I got pretty much nurtured to grow this love towards making stuff happen on computers. But does that make me talented? No! I surely wasn’t born with it. I was just nurtured to do it. And I happened to do a lot of it at the time.
Here’s a challenge for you – pick one thing that you really suck at. As in – something that you always assumed you just sucked at and never even bothered to try getting better. Now, invest MAXIMUM, and I’m dead serious here – MAXIMUM of 15 minutes per day, for 7 days straight, on this thing. You are really allowed only 15 minutes. Not more, not less. 15. This is in total a bit more than hour and a half for the whole week. Give that a try and observe what happens. I guarantee you – you will be surprised!
I’ll join the challenge as well. One of (many) things that I seriously always sucked at is playing instruments. Like – any instrument. I tried playing guitar couple of times in the past but was so retarded at it that I gave up every single time. Well, not this time! I’ll dedicate 15 mins per day to trying to play guitar and see what happens.
We all suck at something that we’ve never tried before. Even the naturally gifted ones most likely sucked at whatever their gift is. It’s just that they were too young to remember, so they just kept doing it until they improved. So, whatever it is that you think that you suck at, just remember – we all suck in the beginning. And that’s ok. Just keep doing it until you get better. And you will. Promised! Good luck!