You’re Not the Exception

When you look at athletes or artists or anyone who’s better at anything than you are, your immediate reaction is to tell yourself you could never do the things they’re doing. You can’t even run an entire minute without having to stop to breathe, you’ll never be able to run a marathon. When you paint a landscape, your sun is still in the upper corner with a smiley face … you love to create art but who would want to buy your work?

You keep trying different things to figure out if you’re good at any of them. And you’re not. You suck at everything.

If only there was just one thing you could actually do well. Every time you try something new, you always fail … so you move on to the next thing. Maybe that will be the thing you’re good at.

You’re not the exception. You aren’t the only person who sucks.

Everyone sucks at anything when they first start. I’ve tried so many new things in my life (and sucked at them) that I know if you want to find something you’re really good at, first you have to be bad at it.

No one wakes up one morning and becomes an Olympic snowboarder. Or featured on the cover of Climbing magazine hanging off the face of El Cap. You don’t just run a marathon one day. Or paint a masterpiece. Or write the next great American novel.

It takes work. Pain. Frustration. Tears. Anger.

You’ll hate what you’re doing sometimes … maybe more often than you enjoy it. You’ll get so pissed off that it doesn’t seem worth it anymore. You’ll find excuses why you can’t or shouldn’t be doing whatever it is you’re doing. Reasons why you’re not good enough. Why it shouldn’t be you doing this.

I hate running. I even own a shirt that says “Running Sucks.” I wear it almost every time I go running. I really do hate running. It’s hard. It hurts. I know I’ll never, ever be as good as I want to be. But I keep running. Even though I have to force myself to put on my shoes and go to the gym. Even though I wake up in the middle of the night because my legs and feet hurt so bad.

I keep running.

Because despite the pain, I love the feeling of having accomplished something. Of working towards something else. Of always having another challenge to face; the next day at the gym, the next 5K or to beat my best time. Or of the marathon I’ll be running in a few months.

You can’t expect to try something new and just be good at it. And if you try something and you aren’t good at it, that doesn’t mean you’ll never be good at it. If you try rock climbing and you can’t get to the top because your hands are weak and you don’t have the strength to climb, that’s not a good enough reason to quit. You can work on your weaknesses and get better over time.

Even the people who are the best at what they do had to work hard to get to where they are now and have to keep practicing to maintain their skills. They work to perfect their art, their craft, their skill, their strength. At some point, they sucked just as much as you do right now. Even now, they still have moments when they struggle. Did you see Shaun White in Sochi?

Paint. Run. Climb.

Do whatever you want. Even if you suck. I give you permission to be really, really bad at whatever you want to do.

Now, go on with your bad self…

Failure is the Key to Success

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” ~ Michael Jordan

There’s nothing worse than working your ass off only to fail.

But it’s okay to fail.  Failure is just the first step towards success. Our failures give us an opportunity to reflect on why things didn’t happen as we’d hoped. We should embrace our mistakes in order to learn from them. Most of all, we should continue taking risks, even if we might fail.

Some of the most respected people in history have failed miserably, only to persevere and become wildly successful. Here are but a few examples:

Publishers rejected Stephen King’s first book thirty times. Frustrated, King decided to give up, throwing the book in the trash. His wife took it out, encouraging him to submit it again. Today, King has hundreds of published books, and is one of the best-selling authors of all time.

Walt Disney was fired because, according to his editor, he lacked imagination and had no good ideas. After starting a number of failed businesses, he eventually found the recipe for success. Today, Disney brings in billions of dollars from merchandise sales, movies and theme parks around the world.

Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was four, and didn’t read until he was seven, leading his teachers and parents to believe he was mentally handicapped. In 1921,  he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.”

Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting (to a friend for a very small amount of money) while he was alive. Even though he was never a success during his lifetime, he kept painting. Today, his paintings are worth millions.

After a single performance, the manager of the Grand Ole Opry told Elvis Presley, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.” He went on to become one of the best-selling artists of all time, and is still a household name today.

Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” As an inventor, Edison made a thousand unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail a thousand times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail a thousand times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

This post was inspired by 100 Words On: Why It Pays to Never Give Up by Len Penzo