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How Do You Know When You Stop Sucking at Something?

Let’s face it. We suck. We suck at almost everything we do. We just barely get by. Consider, how many of us are great breathers? Out of the thousand or so people I’ve ever known pretty well, I’d say eleven are great breathers. The rest of us pretty much suck at it— and we do it all the time.

How about email? Suck.

Remembering names? Suck.

Even pooping. I heard a colleague rejoice because at his new job, “At least I don’t have to shit in a hurry!”

Suck, suck, suck.

As a recovering Hard Tryer at Everything, I’m learning to give up the pursuit of excellence on many fronts, but there are a few things I have to do all the time that, because I suck at them, cause me a lot of frustration and suck way too much my attention.

That Big Hairy Learning Curve

Big Hairy Learning CurveThe main reason we suck at some important skills is because a lot of them are actually hard to do at first. We confront what’s technically called “a big hairy learning curve,” and because so much effort is required to get a little more competent, we don’t bother trying. We put up with sucking.

One of the skills I needed to stop sucking at is video editing. It would take me hours just to load a video from my Flip camera, make a couple simple edits in iMovie, then get it online so people could see it. Because it was so painful I didn’t do it very often, and each time I had to relearn how to do it poorly, but more and more I wanted to use video content in this website. I had to stop sucking.

A couple weeks ago I set aside about 20 hours to research and learn a much better method of video editing. I bought software I felt would serve me for a few years, watched tutorials to learn the basics, and edited a couple simple pieces developing a template I thought would meet most of my needs. It was a focused effort for a concentrated time period. My course final was a recent project, Night at the Blue Fig, which took me only 5 hours to shoot, edit, compress, and get online. It won’t win awards, but who cares. I tackled that hairy curve and now feel like I don’t suck any more.

What is good enough?

The problem with getting better at something is that you see more and more how to get even better.

Big Hairy Learning Curve

The key for a Hard Tryer like me is to know when to stop the effortful learning and just coast. I could easily get caught up in critiquing my work and refining my skills and falling into the part of a learning curve that is more challenging, but I’m not going to do that.

I decided I need to focus elsewhere. Now that I’m no longer wasting my time sucking, it’s time to stop sweating it. I’m good enough.

To make this a realistic goal for your Week’s Plan, take a few minutes in the coming week to identify one skill you need to learn just well-enough to save you hours of frustration in the future.


NOTE: If you are looking for a good way to learn something difficult quickly, check out Cal Newport’s Textbook Method.

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Leave a comment3 comments on "How Do You Know When You Stop Sucking at Something?"

  1. This is an inspiration! I bought an iPad about 2 months ago, brought it back with me to Guatemala, found in my house filled with rebar the wifi worked only where my computer is, so then had to get WiFi installed in various places of the house. Since then I haven’t opened my iPad even once! That will be my challenge for this week to Stop Sucking – find something enjoyable to do with it, in an enjoyable place in my home.

  2. I see what you mean. Improvement on any front is gratifying but everyone has their areas of expertise that should be discovered and nurtured. Excellent article.
    Thank you

  3. This is great. I realized, recently, that I suck at a ton of stuff. Mainly in my operating systems.

    This post helps me think, yes, I suck at that, yes, I can work at that, and yes, I don’t have to be uber amazing at everything.

    But this helps me look at what’s important to not suck and and suck up what it takes to make it work.

    Thanks, David, for your brilliant, funny writing and lovely graphics.

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