The Other Option Than Failing

For those of you who know me well I’m pretty obsessed with learning new things. There’s rarely a time where I’m not spending at least a few hours a week on some new online course or workbook. I’ve discovered that this process, at least how it was taught to me, has some major flaws. I want to talk about the biggest trap, and how to overcome some of the minor flaws.

The trap I alluded to is the watch/read/learn/do everything mentality. It’s the drive you get to watch every course and take every lesson. Before you can be good, you’ve gotta learn it all. This obviously isn’t true. When you think about it with even a shred of logic it falls apart immediately. Yet so many people I know, myself included, fall victim to this. We believe we will somehow become qualified to create once we’ve taken all of these courses. Or once we have the proper certification. The solution to this trap is the same as the flaws I’ll discuss, and why I wanted to write this article.

The first flaw in learning is the expert myth. We think our work isn’t worth doing until we become an expert. Of course this means we won’t do anything, because if you need to do work in order to become an expert, but can’t do work until you’re an expert… You get the picture. We tend to think more knowledge will make us feel more secure. The reality is that we have to make the leap of faith and try creating at some point. There’s no other way around it – you have to try.

The second flaw is that failing is good. I linked the title of the article to this flaw because I think it’s so pervasive in society right now.

I’ll summarize – you should make a ton of mistakes and fail a lot because then you’ll get good. The underlying idea here is that failure is what makes you good. And lot’s of it makes you great. I disagree with this completely.

My belief is that intentional creation from a place of passion is how you get good. I’ll dig into this more shortly. It’s not about failing or making mistakes though. I think these are the byproducts of intentional creation. I don’t think they should be the goal. To me, you are striving to make something better every single time you try. This is how you learn. This how you get good – regardless of whether it is a new language, or drawing, or dancing. You have to spend time trying, and wanting to get good. This is where the intention comes in. If you WANT to get good, it will happen. On the other hand, if you want to make mistakes, this will happen. You might get good, or you might get good at making mistakes because you believe this is what you should do.

The reason this thinking irks me is that it’s similar to the connection made when looking at people who are successful. We try to find what they all have in common and determine this is the path to embark on. Maybe it is the right path, but maybe 99% of people attempting the same skill took the exact same path and never succeeded. It’s pure selection bias. We think, Michael Jordan shot basketballs for 6 hours every morning, so to be good we must do the same. We don’t know what he thought about while shooting those baskets, where his mind was, or what his goal or attitude were. I think these things are just as important, if not more so. What was he thinking about on his off days? What did he dream about?

I’m clubbing the idea here, but it’s frustrated me for a long time. I put the 10,000 hour rule into this category as well. Why did these people do what they did for that long? Why didn’t they spend more time watching tv, or napping, or hanging with friends? These are the questions I want to know the answers to.

I believe that being intentional and passionate about whatever you undertake is the key. I think we all learn this lesson as children, and then again from children when we are adults. As a child, you make. You don’t judge, you are proud just to have made. You want to show everyone what you’ve made because you made it. Then we become adults and we don’t want to show anyone what we’ve made because we are terrified it isn’t good. It doesn’t matter in either instance. What matters is the act of making with passion.

Take this as a challenge. Try whatever you’ve wanted to begin learning, but with passion and intention. Go speak to people in another language and bumble around, but try really hard. Do it with a huge grin on your face because you love it. Enjoy the entire process. And have the desire to get better, find a way to track it, ask others how you are doing. Finish things and compare them to your previous work. Most of all, remember what it was like to be a child anytime you sit down to learn and create. Your brain still has that capability if you let go of other’s expectations you’ve internalized.