It’s Good to Suck

“Sucking at something is the first step…” -Jake the Dog

What sells? The quick fix. The rags-to-riches story. The pop star. The Hollywood starlet. These are the pervasive tropes of 20th/21st-century culture, and in America particularly, but why do we like them so much? Put simply, we enjoy seeing only end results. It’s entertaining to see someone who’s invested thousands of hours into an activity and think, “Oof, they make it look so easy.”

This is followed by the inevitable, “Oof, I wish I could do that.” The wonders of the upper-percentile of humans who have chosen to make themselves specialists has paralyzed the rest of us. Someone who’s 25 and has spent 20,000 hours of their life coding, skiing or playing the saxophone could only be honest in acknowledging that there are other areas of their lives they have, either by sheer habit or necessity, neglected. Regardless— anyone who is accomplished in any field did, at one point, suck. Some of them still suck, but through personality, hard work and charisma are able to carve out a place for themselves. That’s a skill in and of itself.

The goal here is not to instill in you a thirst for vapid accomplishments. I do not want to incite the herd mentality. The most interesting people in my life are not specialists, but instead jacks-of-all-trades: the managers, the artists, the entrepreneurs. And these are people who have at some point decided that they were OK with sucking at a bunch of different things. They sucked at building credit, they sucked at guitar, they sucked at wrangling employees, they sucked at investing. But over time, we overcome the tiny obstacles that make up our days, weeks, months, and years, and progress to something that doesn’t suck.

My intention here is to encourage you to do something you’re bad at. If you don’t feel like that, do the thing you’re good at but focus on the areas where you need to improve. This practice helps us reconfigure the way we approach tasks.

Instead of obsessing over the end results, we learn to find enjoyment in the process. It’s the process that produces results, after all, and if you can teach yourself to focus on improving at every infinitesimal locus of each process, your work will take on a whole new meaning. Doesn’t matter what the work itself is. Just do it with full awareness.

Meditation helps us accomplish this. In focusing on the breath, we treat every tiny action as if it’s a Big Deal. The little skills of daily life become the fruit of daily life itself. Like a Zen monk, we wash the dishes, make the bed, pour the tea, whatever. Apply this mindfulness to your work, even if you think you’re bad at what you’re doing.

Culture gets us living in our own heads, constantly judging ourselves against people who’ve spent years paying their dues. The truth of the matter is that life is more about paying dues than reaping rewards. If we can make the due-paying fun and learn to find joy in the little actions and reactions of the day, we’ll soon find ourselves not-sucking at the most important skill of all: life itself.

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