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Getting Good First Requires the Willingness to Be Bad

Watching The Queen’s Gambit, a series about an orphan who becomes a chess prodigy reminds me of the fact that I’m not even close to being a chess master. In fact, I rather suck at the game. On the other hand, it also has rekindled my love for chess.

Beaten by a Janitor

One thing I love about this series is the fact that while it is fictional and glamorized for Hollywood, they used several real-life chess players for inspiration. The thing that rings true to me is how the main character, Beth Harmon, becomes a master.

In the very beginning, you see her being beaten handily by the janitor, who also happens to be an excellent chess player. But a spark takes hold, and she grows to love the game, becoming completely obsessed with it. Soon enough, she’s beating every player she comes into contact with, eventually even beating her mentor.

Mastery takes practice even if you’re a prodigy

Ignition

One of my favorite books, “The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown.” by Daniel Coyle, describes this very phenomenon. Coyle calls that initial spark “ignition.” It’s the love of the game to the point that the player becomes nearly obsessed that turns your average person into a world-class talent.

This is easy to see with kids. Right now, my youngest is obsessed with the game Fortnite. He’s incredibly good, but he didn’t start that way. Imagine what would have happened if he had given up the first time he died on that game? It would have made dear old dad a little happier to see him off his devices a bit more, but he would not have gotten as good at it if he hadn’t played obsessively.

You aren’t good at any video game when you first start. Life isn’t any different.

It’s the same thing in any endeavor, including your career. Think about billionaires. Do you really think they continue working because they care about money? That was a rhetorical question; they love what they do; that’s why they are so good at it and why they keep doing it long after the money is no longer a concern.

Why Following Your Passion is Good

The fact that you get good at things you love to do is why people say, “Follow your passion.” If you’re doing what you love, you’re going to get good at it as opposed to a job where you’re staring at the clock waiting for the second hand to touch quitting time so you can go home.

I love solving problems and helping others; that’s why my career took off when I became a computer technician. It wasn’t about the paycheck for me; it was about solving problems. There were many times when I looked up from my work only to realize everyone else had gone home, and I hadn’t even noticed that it was well after closing time. It’s the same thing now that I’m a business owner and a business coach; I still love the challenge of solving problems.

That doesn’t mean I was any good when I first became a technician. No, I just stuck with the problems longer than any other sane person would, and eventually, I became an excellent tech. I wasn’t much good as a business coach early on either, but now my clients consistently get results.

No One Starts as a Master

If you want to get really good at something, be willing to be bad at it. Everyone starts somewhere. I’ve seen this with every one of my five children.

For example, my oldest is a vocal teacher with a waiting list of people who want to take lessons. She has sung on stage at Carnegie Hall in New York City and consistently gets major roles in the local theater. Yet, I can remember a time when I was wincing as she practiced. But she practiced every day, sought out world-class teachers, and now performs at a professional level and teaches the next generation.

Emma belting out a song on stage

Consistent Focused Practice is Key

Only with consistent practice do we get good at anything. That’s why if you want to get good at something, you must first be willing to be bad at it. It takes time to develop skills, so enjoy the journey and celebrate the little wins along the way.

Don Smith
 

Don Smith is a business advisor and the founder of The Personal Growth Channel. Happily married with five children, he lives in Springfield, Illinois.