I’ve been listening to Tim Ferriss’s podcast for almost four years now. He’s a fantastic interviewer who invites people who are top performers in their respective fields and asks well thought out questions to get an understanding of what makes these people great at what they do. Less than a year ago, he published a new book titled Tools of Titans, basically a highlight reel of all the valuable nuggets of advice his interviewees give. After dawdling for 7 months, I finally bit the bullet and purchased it.
As I skimmed through the book, I was a little shocked how similar their answers were to the question “What advice would you have given you your younger self?” A lot of them said, in some form or another, “You don’t need to be so afraid. Everything will work itself out in the end.” Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist who helped develop therapeutic video games and works in firms investing in technology to improve human performance, responded with “I would say to have no fear...You’ve got one chance here to do amazing things, and being afraid of being wrong or making a mistake or fumbling is just not how you do something of impact” (137). Jason Silva, the host of Brain Games on National Geographic, says, “I would encourage my younger self to just not be afraid, right? To realize that a lot of things that were-I don’t want to say crippling anxieties, but- definitely ever-pervasive fears in my life growing up were unnecessary. A lot of time was wasted, a lot of energy was wasted, being worried” (591). Stephen J. Dubner, author of bestseller Freakonomics, “I would say it’s pretty simple: ‘Don’t be scared.’ There are a lot of things I did not do, a lot of experiences I never tried, a lot of people I never met or hung out with because I was, in some form, intimidated or scared… It also plays into what psychologists call the ‘spotlight effect,’ [as if] everybody must be caring about what I do. And the fact is: Nobody gives a crap what I do.” Another response I related to was Dan Carlin’s, who hosts the podcasts Hardcore History and Common Sense. “I remember looking out and just saying, ‘Oh my God, when am I going to like this? When am I going to really be happy with the work that I’m churning out?’” Incidentally, it's something that I realized a lot of creatives struggle with. “If I could go back and just tell myself, ‘Don’t stress about it, it’s all going to work out in the end.’ … If you could have just said, ‘Stop worrying, it’s all going to be okay,’… I would have saved a ton of emotional stress and worry.” (286)
As I was reading all of this, I was going through a little bit of fear-induced paralysis myself. Funnily enough, reading other people's responses just made me worry even more. Was all of my fear… all for nothing? Will I be like them? In 10 to 20 years, if asked the same question, would I say the same thing? Reading all of these responses, I thought “if these guys have already said these things, they’ve already done the work for me. I know that it’s okay to worry, but also the fact that the worrying just isn’t a great allocation of mental resources.” However, knowing is different from fully accepting the information.
At first, I thought I just wanted to pursue an illustration career, but now I also want to branch out into completely unknown territories, such as photography, blogging, and reviewing movies. Given that my only passion and the only thing I wanted to learn every facet of was illustration for more than 15 years, stepping into and exploring these new creative fields is nerve wracking. I have no experience in this! What do I do? Being a complete novice at something once again and potentially embarrassing myself, why would I subject myself to that shame?
Then yesterday just on my computer, the YouTube gods came down from high heaven and recommended me a video from Kienan Lafferty on the sidebar. I don’t consistently watch his videos anymore, but he is solely responsible (no joke) for my knowledge in Photoshop and digital painting. That and his occasional “Thoughtful Thursdays” videos, where he discusses common mental roadblocks creatives may have and ways to overcome them. These videos were akin to my flashlight during my high school years when I felt like I was groping in the dark with no clear direction. They comforted me and gave actionable advice that I could apply to my life. Youtube recommended the video, “YOU SUCK, and it doesn’t matter anymore.” I had watched this awhile back when he first posted it, but I eagerly clicked it. I needed that (slightly masochistic) kick in the butt. (If you want to watch the video- if you may need that kick in the butt as well- the link will be at the bottom of this post.)
It essentially comes down to this: the question of whether or not you’re bad at what you do or not is completely irrelevant. The more important question is whether or not you’re actually out there, physically doing what you want to do and- despite all the fear- putting yourself on the line. Paradoxically, admitting that your work sucks (regardless of whether or not it does) is quite liberating. Once you wholeheartedly admit that you’re not good at what you do and accept it, you have just met your worst fear and… it’s not as bad as you thought it was. Huh. You haven’t lost limbs. Your world has not imploded around you Transformers-style. You bruised your ego, but now you’re free to experiment and since you see yourself as a novice, you’ve just given yourself space to make mistakes because you, like every else, are still figuring things out. And that exploration is a good thing.
So today, do something that gives you the butterflies when you think about potentially acting on it. Learning a new skill from scratch or simply asking your local barista how their day is so far. What matters is whether or not you have stretched out of your comfort zone, because any sort of action, no matter how small, when done consistently, will accumulate and you’ll realize you’ve leveled up in that skill before you know it.
Ferriss, Tim. (2016). Tools of Titans. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
And for those of you curious about Kienan Lafferty's video: