Embrace the suck! Work at what you love to get better at it

I suck. And at a lot of different things.

I’m not a good basketball player, I can’t ride a bike, I can barely swim, I a “directionally challenged” and would get hopelessly lost without my phone’s GPS. I’m can carry a tune – barely – but I can’t stay on key. I’d continue, but doing so would reveal some shortcomings that I’d rather not make public (and before you make any assumptions, I’m just fine in the… ahem… “performance” department).

I share these several examples to make a point: We ALL suck. A lot. And the sooner we become aware of it the sooner we can start focusing on areas that we want to NOT suck at. Because you have to suck at something before you get good at it.

I’m a creative person… I’m a designer, an author, and an amateur photographer. And when I look back at my early writing, photography and design work, I shutter. How could I have thought that ANYTHING I was doing was any good? Because a most of it… wasn’t.

I have the same attitude that author Robert McCammon has: Several years ago, when he was asked why he didn’t allow the reissue of his first two novels, he declared simply and definitely “because they sucked.” But he – and I – kept going, kept honing our craft and getting better.

And that’s the key – I KEPT WORKING at it. Very very few of us (save the rare Mozart type), are born “gifted”. It takes work, as we refine our natural talents to sharpen them to a fine point. The Beatles were barely a band when they first got together, didn’t know how to play much more than a one-chord tune. But, as we all know, they played and practiced and played some more… until they became the world-class band that we all know. I could cite scores of other examples, but I don’t need to. The key is to keep doing what you love, keep getting better at it, and not giving up.

One more thing: you have to have to “distance” yourself from the work, to judge it with no emotional baggage and on its own merits. I can look back at my early work and judge it dispassionately because of the time that has passed, but I can now do the same type of evaluation on something I created less than an hour before. This skill came with experience, and is one of the keys to becoming good at anything.

So, embrace the suck! Start doing what you love, and don’t beat yourself up over your initial output. If you keep trying, and are passionate, you’ll get better.

Joseph Dickerson is a user experience professional and UX Lead for Microsoft based out of Atlanta, GA. He has implemented processes in user testing, design and ethnographic research and provided design and consulting services for many different projects and organizations.

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