Learning New Stuff (and some humility too)

aka, Embracing the bottom rung

You have to be willing to be bad at something, before you can be good at something. You have to learn to survive frustration and maybe even some pain. The process works much faster if you will allow people to witness your trials and errors in real time so you can receive the necessary feedback for improvement.la-foot-jpg-pagespeed-ce-nqauhaehj9

The first time this concept hit home for me was in high school. I ended up being one of the better players on my soccer team and was invited to play an all-star team for the state of Virginia. There is no humble-bragging intended here because I was definitely one of the worst players on the best team in its class. I didn’t see much actual playing time but I learned a ton about soccer and teamwork and the value of continually “starting at the bottom.”

Years later I went to GIT in Hollywood. They tell the students on day one to leave their ego at the door…acknowledging that everyone in the room was likely one of the “best” musicians in whatever town they came from, but…”no matter what special thing you think you can do on guitar, there are likely six guys in the room who can do it better.” They weren’t wrong.

I had virtually no writing experience when I decided I wanted to write a novel. So I read 32 books on the craft and started typing. Ever since, I’ve alternated between reading a lot and writing a lot. Like anyone else, I am prone to letting my head swell a bit when I write something particularly good or receive an acceptance email for one of my stories. But then I simply read something by Richard Russo or Nick Hornby or Anne Tyler or Benjamin Percy or Ian Mcewan (or dozens of others) and I am appropriately humbled yet again. (Reading my own stuff can be rather humbling too!)

I have done this with musical instruments, memory tricks, and many facets of my day job. I start out knowing very little and simply accept the fact that the only way to get good at something is to swallow my pride, resign myself to doing whatever is required poorly for a while, then do it anyway.

The good news is: the more often you learn a new thing from scratch, the better you get at learning things from scratch. Believe it or not there is a lot of crossover between learning the banjo, how to memorize a shuffled deck of cards, how to craft better sentences, and my company’s clumsy ERP system. You have to be willing to suck at something for a while, to be okay with incremental improvement, maybe even take a step or two back before you can leap a few forward.

Personally, I believe this helps people live longer too (along with juicing regularly and not playing chicken with dump trucks).

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