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Do I look dumb?

Written by Justin on November 2, 2014

Recently, my friend Justin installed a chin-up bar at his office.

When you haven’t done many chin-ups, doing a chin-up looks ridiculous. You grunt, wiggle, and shake trying to bring your chin up to the bar. It’s embarrassing, especially compared to your athletic co-worker who’s able to do 10 without breaking a sweat.

Nobody wants to look dumb. When you’re starting something new, that’s how you look, isn’t it? Awkward, uncoordinated, weak.

But that’s the only way to grow. You have to start somewhere, and usually it doesn’t feel good:

“[Forcing yourself into these situations doesn’t feel good]. But that’s how you get better. It’s grueling, it’s practice. When you’re working at something, and trying to get better, it doesn’t feel good. Eventually you do this long enough, and you embarrass yourself long enough, you make progress.” – Nate Kontny

Even though we try to avoid it, there’s a lot research that shows that struggle is actually good for us. Annie Paul summarizes this paradox here:

“The more you struggle and even fail while you’re trying to master new information, the better you’re likely to recall and apply that information later.”

You win by looking dumb

The willingness to try new things, and looking dumb at the beginning, is a big part of success.

“I’m not afraid of making a fool of myself. Often I will often say something that later I consider wrong. I don’t mind changing my mind. There’s a 40% chance I’ll be wrong, but that’s OK. That’s the mindset you need to have.” – Malcolm Gladwell, in his Quartz interview

If you don’t get started, you have a 100% chance of not improving.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” – JK Rowling

My friend Sacha Greif just sent me an Adventure Time clip that summarizes this perfectly:

You’re not going to be able to avoid that awkward first step: whether you’re writing your first blog post, building your first app, releasing your first podcast, or recording your first video.

Be prepared to look (and feel) dumb.

It’s OK, because you’re taking the time to do the work. Anyone who laughs is just a voice from the sidelines (too scared to step up). And pretty soon you’ll be doing 10 chin-ups without breaking a sweat.

Hope this has been helpful.

Cheers,
Justin Jackson
@mijustin

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