Your Tools Don’t Define You.

You Do.

This article was first published on the @UserDefenders podcast Bi-Weekly Bugle.

Christian Hsoi. Tony Hawk. Mike McGill.

If you (like me) grew up in the 80’s, those name are all too familiar to you.

If not, these guys were member of the Bones Brigade–legendary skateboarders largely instrumental in bringing the movement to life in the 80's.

Mike Webster (who was as cool as his name) was my neighbor back then. He had a sweet board. If my memory serves me well, it was a Tony Hawk. Perfectly concave with state-of-the-art wheels and bearings.

All I had to do was look out my front window to see him doing some of the raddest tricks you could do on a driveway and curb.

He inspired me to want to skate.

The next Christmas, my finale gift was a skateboard. Not just any skateboard…

[Drumroll]

It was a Ninja Dragon-Master.

[Cue the tuba]

The Ninja was not even close to as cool as it sounded. It was a Price Club special. Basically a starter board. It didn’t have a cool squared nose like Mike Webster’s. It had a round nose and hardly any tail for ollie’s. It also was “blessed” with nose and tail guards.

Basically the social equivalent of Napoleon Dynamite’s moon boots.

I learned how to ollie on it, even with those design challenges. I kept practicing with the only board I had, and eventually took that tinker toy off launch ramps!


Fast-forward a decade. I started playing guitar. My parents came through again and bought me a really cheap starter electric guitar (Series 10) and an “Omg I didn’t know they made amps that small” (Crate) amplifier.

I sucked at first (everyone does!), but I didn’t let that stop me. I even tried taking lessons until my “Tennessee Top Hat” adorned guitar teacher forced me to learn “Rock You Like A Hurricane”.

I was out.

Instead, I decided to learn (by ear) every single Metallica song to date (this was just after “…And Justice For All”).

I did it.

I taught myself how to play quite well on that borderline toy guitar, and Stuart Little’s amp.

Then I met Josh, whose Mom & Dad shelled out a few g’s for a freakin Jackson Flying V. Josh had a killer guitar and a Marshall half-stack to boot!

But, you know what? He never seemed to get better…even after playing for quite a while. Almost as if the mindset was, “I have this bitchin’ guitar. It’s the same one Randy Rhoads played. It should just play itself!”

Unfortunately (fortunately?), that’s not how it works.

I share all of this as a reminder that your tools don’t define you. You define you.

You could start out with the most expensive MacBook Pro (you know the one with that gimmicky touch bar?) and end up only doing word processing on it.

“Hey listen buddy, I should be able to be the best designer, and coder in the world because…well, I have the best computer in the world!”

Doesn’t work like that.

You could start out on an Acer and become a friggin’ programming prodigy using Notepad and a free FTP! Why?

Because you were hungry enough to forget you were tool-deficient. You were driven enough to master your passion. Because you had just enough to do it.

I’m not downplaying the importance of good tools (trust me, I’m a homeowner). I’m up-playing the importance of staying driven to pursue your passions.

The ideal tool for southpaw Jimi Hendrix would’ve been a left-handed guitar. Problem is, he (as an edge case) had a hard time finding one. Did he let his lack of an optimal tool stop him from pursuing his passion? Hellz no. He bought a right-handed guitar, flipped it over and restrung that S.O.B.!

You could say he got pretty danged good with that inconvenient tool.

The rest is history.

You are only as good at what you do as the amount of time you spend doing it.

Dan Mall said it perfectly in our User Defenders podcast interview:

“Practice what you do.”

Aren’t you glad doctor’s and surgeons practice constantly??

While I shared with you some of my victory stories, I’m no one special. I still have to maintain a growth mindset daily. I’ve had pretty decent computer equipment for 20yrs, and I still don’t know JS! Mostly because I haven’t been passionate enough to pursue it.

I am learning CSS Grid though!

Let me close by encouraging you to have and always maintain a growth mindset. Oh, and definitely read Mindset!

There’s no limit to what you can do.

Whether you’re strumming a Series 10, or standing on a Ninja.

“Why do we assume that it’s our talent, rather than our effort that decides where we end up in the very long run?” — Angela Duckworth

If you found value in this article, would you help other designers find it too by giving this a huge round of 👏?