How to Become Good at LITERALLY Anything
No, I am serious. You could be good at anything.
Ok fine, I can see your argument, and it is valid. Perhaps "literally" is not correct, since some things are just outside the reach of reality. BUT LET'S NOT NITPICK OK?
What I really wanted to say is that there is a method to becoming good at whatever strikes your fancy. Maybe you want to be good at playing guitar, or writing, or playing disc golf (these are all, of course, examples from my own life, but feel free to insert your own). Well, first you have to decide what it is that you want to pursue, then you can run down my handy-dandy cheat sheet for excellence.
1. Gear Up
Get everything that you will need to begin your endeavor. Don't go crazy here though. You don't need the Paul Reed Smith guitar, the fancy new laptop, or a colorful array of discs to move on to the next step. Also, don't let this be what is preventing you from moving on to the next step, since you may think that you need something more before you can really begin working on that thing you wanted to work on. Make sure that you take stock of what you have on hand (you can write on paper... with a pencil... it's OK and no one will laugh at you... I think).
In fact, I would suggest outfitting yourself with the least initial investment that will still serve the purpose. The reason I say this is because if you cannot pursue this dream in even the smallest fashion, then perhaps it isn't really for you. If I cannot take a notebook and pen to Panera, sit down with a cup of coffee, and write a story or blog post, then I don't really have any business writing (much less investing in a brand new computer or iPad to fuel my writing), and may need to reassess my goals.
Put a lot of time into your dream. I mean A LOT of time. I don't know exactly where the numbers came from (probably from Malcolm Gladwell, because that guy is awesome), but it takes someone around 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at something.
That's over a year of just straight practice. Adjusting for standard working hours, that is close to FIVE YEARS with NO VACATION.
Now, why would I drop that on you? It sounds harsh, and it is harsh, but I promise that I have a good reason. First of all, it helps you (and me) to realize that we will not be instantly good at whatever we are trying to pursue. I will not be an overnight success as a writer (or a professional disc golf champion for that matter, but that is a little beside the point). We live in this digital age where everything is instant. We have streaming video, fast food, direct deposit for our paychecks, automatic bill payments, access to nearly limitless knowledge. All of this stuff has brought us, as a society, to the point where if I cannot buy a movie as an instant download and actually have to go to the store to purchase the DVD, I am a little annoyed.
We need to have a healthy understanding that to become good at something, we are going to have to invest some time into it. You are not entitled to be called the greatest engineer that ever lived because you graduated with a B.S. from some university that no one has really heard of. You have to work for that, and it takes time.
The second reason I bring this point up is to draw some boundaries between yourself and other people that you may be tempted to compare yourself to. There is a healthy place for comparison, but it can also be very damaging. I hope that I can expound on the topic further in a future blog post, because I think that there is a lot to say on this topic. Just remember that you walk a dangerous path when you compare your skills with those who have been practicing for much longer than you have. Don't allow yourself to feel like a failure because you don't measure up to the people who have been working at this for a LONG TIME.
3. There Is No Step Three
Maybe you saw this coming, but there really is nothing past this point. There is no magical time when you suddenly realize that you are good at something. Most of the time, the only you realize that you have grown in your trade when someone compares themselves to you, or gives you a compliment.
Also, if you really want to pursue something, and truly want to become the best you can be, then you will NEVER stop practicing. Again, if this sounds like I am telling a child "you will have homework for the rest of your life," then perhaps what you desire is not really your dream. Maybe you need to reevaluate your passions. When I think about continuing to practice my writing for the rest of my life , I get a little excited. I think about how I can leverage that to do even greater things, and that is why I can reassure myself that this is what I need to be doing.
Photo Credit: Turbo Toddi