“Everything that’s going to be great starts out pretty terrible.”

Let me share something with you that comes to mind every once in a while:

“Everything that’s going to be great starts out pretty terrible.”

You know who said it? I did. Do you know why I said it? Because it’s true for pretty much every skill I’ve attempted. Most people, when they hear the word “skill”, think of physical skills first, like running, jumping, or even things like sewing and carpentry. There are other skills that people call “soft skills,” like negotiation, conflict resolution, or active listening. 

Aside: I dislike the term “soft skill.” There’s nothing soft about those skills. In fact, they are the most important skills to leading a successful and happy life. Negotiation, conflict resolution, and active listening are required for being a great manager, a great parent, and a great romantic partner. It’s such a contradiction that none of them are taught in school: not middle school, not high school, not even university. This is a big part of the reason I choose to be a relationship coach: train people in the skills that are essential to every aspect of a successful and happy life.

Let’s take a look at some of my skills. We’ll start with a physical skill. I’ll bet most of you didn’t know this about me: I won first place… in a traditional kungfu competition… in Beijing. Shaolin Fist category.

This photo is from my very first performance back in… 2003? (my best guess)

But this was after 4 years of training and practice. Let me tell you where I started:

  • When I started my first class, the first part of the warm-up was stretching. I could hardly put my foot on the radiator, and it wasn’t even waist-high!
  • After about 1 month of classes, I remember an older man who was practicing taichi nearby walked towards us (me and my instructor) and told me how terrible my stances were. Mainly because of my really limited flexibility.
  • I could just barely get through the 20-minute warmup, and then I wanted to just stop because I was so tired.

It’s only because I kept going and I stayed consistent with my training that I was able to become flexible, have good form, and eventually have the stamina to go for 2 or 3 hours at a time.

It took me 4 years to be able to stretch like this!

There are other skills too, like my coaching skills. When I first started coaching, I didn’t have a set structure for the sessions. I wasn’t really listening, and I was trying to find what the other person was doing wrong so I could fix it. But I kept going. Again, everything that’s going to be great starts out pretty terrible.

Once I actually declared myself a coach, I interviewed other coaches and attended their workshops. From those, I realized I had so many skills that I’d been working on for years and years, even before I decided on coaching as my career:

  • Being a classroom teacher for 5 years (2001 – 2006) had me hone my skills on lesson planning, classroom management, engaging the students, and public speaking.
  • Being a kungfu instructor in preschools trained me to keep my expectations simple and clear, have a consistent structure, and give lots of positive reinforcement.
  • Doing my own self-development taught me how to have compassion for myself, and by extension, have compassion for others in whatever part of their journey they are.

Now I can say that I am a fully trained and highly experienced coach. The skills required to make me into the coach I am today didn’t start the day I declared myself a coach, they started years, some even decades prior. They started back in 2001 when I walked into my first class as an English teacher. It’s been a long road of really terrible mistakes, flaming dumpster fires, and yes also bright shining examples of things I did right. All those experiences were part of the path, they each taught me a lesson I needed to learn. I’m so glad I had each one of them.

What are you trying to learn/achieve that you feel like you’re just failing at right now? Consider that the failing and feeling like you’re just terrible at it is all part of the process of learning. Keep going!

Finally, I’ll leave you with this Ira Glass quote that I find really motivating whenever I find myself criticizing my perceived lack of skill:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

 – Ira Glass


What did this blog bring up for you? Please tell me. I’d love to know!

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