Big Things Often Have Small Beginnings

As a political science major turned self-taught software developer I sometimes get asked how to delve into a new skill and master it. The truth is, short of some major scientific breakthrough, there’s no magic formula to auto-upload knowledge into our brains, recent scientific developments not withstanding. For now we have to keep using the age-old technique of study and practice. Rinse and repeat.

We often hear that children learn better than adults, especially when it comes to learning new languages. Sadly this has become the predominant excuse used by people to not pick up a new skill or hobby. We think we are “too old” to learn another language, wish we had spent more time as kids playing the piano, or feel it’s “too late” to learn how to build an app.

The reality is that most of us stop trying. Or we try and quickly learn a valuable lesson; it is fucking hard to learn something new. Our initial enthusiasm becomes short-lived and is quickly replaced by disappointment as we fail to make the progress we had expected. This pain is self-inflicted and absolutely avoidable.

Let me stop here for a moment as I don’t want you to miss my point. It is hard to learn and excel at something. If it wasn’t, we’d all be amazing musicians, artists and engineers. But we’re not. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can stop dwelling on it and focus on how to overcome it, which brings me to my second point.

It’s hard to learn something new, but it’s not impossible. We just need to stick with it. Aside from the rare child prodigy, most children become great violinists or tennis players only through years and years of practice. Their parents sit through out-of-tune recitals and watch their kids lose games, sets and matches.

I think it’s statistically safe to say you and I are not prodigies. We can’t read through the Greek alphabet and suddenly be able to strike up a conversation in the language. Similarly, it takes time to master C# or the cello. The reality is that it will take a long time to become amazing at it - the kind of amazing we hope to impress our peers with. But let’s not let that stop our self-development. Children are not ashamed to be bad at something. Nobody judges them. They keep going. So why have we started caring whether we suck at something?

I am not embarrassed by the terrible code I wrote when I first started programming four years ago. It shows evolution and progress, and today I can appreciate how far I’ve come. Don’t be ashamed to be bad. Just accept that you will be and keep going. Until one day you’re not so bad.

“At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.” 
- Michael Law

I was not a writer until I started. Today. You’re witnessing my start as a terrible writer, but I know that four years from now I’ll appreciate it for what it is. I’ll be happy that I made that first step and kept going.

Somewhere along the way it seems we have forgotten where to start. It’s pretty simple. At the very beginning.

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