04 Nov 2021
You can get way better at most things than you think. The first step is to identify what you want to get really good at and then just start.
Don’t directly compare yourself to others at the top of the field. You’ll inevitably fall short, and it will be demoralizing. It’s good to be inspired by them, but you want to measure against your previous self. Try to get a little bit better each day. If you do this for long enough, you’ll be amazed by the results.
You will improve fastest by working with others who are better than you. Seek them out. This becomes easier as you gain in skill and start to feel more confident approaching them. You will also have more opportunities to do so, since impressive people tend to operate in fairly tight-knit networks.
You have to invest a lot of time and energy to get really good at something. You have to get obsessed; thinking about it all the time, even when you aren’t doing it. You have to let it take over your life. This will mean neglecting most nonessential things and carefully nurturing the few essential things (family, close friends, personal health, maybe one or two other personal pursuits) that remain.
Be very intentional in deliberately practicing your craft. When you’re on, you should be completely on, performing bursts of intensely focused work. Don’t fall into the trap of working long hours but never really getting anything done. It’s tempting to do this, consoling yourself that the long hours must mean you are improving. But you aren’t; you’re just avoiding the real work that you must push through in order to improve.
These are the trappings of working on something other people wanted you to do. But you’re working on something you want to do. You are accountable only to yourself, so forget appearances and shed extant bad habits. Your results are what matter. Your process only matters insofar as it gets you the results. This is intimidating but also extremely liberating.
The best approach looks something like two blocks of time intensely focusing on your craft, and then spending the rest of the day resting, thinking about it in the background, and tending to everything else in your life. It will of course depend upon what you are pursuing.
For all this to work, you have to genuinely love what you’re doing. Discovering what you love to do will feel like a revelation, as though a little furnace of energy is burning inside you. It will bring out your most authentic self. You’ll feel compelled to do it. If the thing you’re pursuing doesn’t feel this way, you’re unlikely to become truly great at it. Keep looking; as Steve Jobs imparted, “You’ll know when you find it”. It is such a rare privilege if you do.
You probably only have room to become truly great at one or two things. So choose wisely. You should try to find something that really matters. My metric is that the pursuit should benefit others in some way. Writing is one example, because great writing benefits anyone who reads it. Don’t worry about this too much though. Once you get really good at something, you’ll have so much leverage with it that you’re sure to find some way it can be used to help others.
So the best way to identify what to get really good at is to just follow your nose until you find what you love to do. Once you have, it will feel so inevitable that you’ll happily realize you likely didn’t have much of a choice in the matter anyways.