experts make mistakes too

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I recently read a guest post on Leo Babuta’s ZenHabits blog entitled 5 Simple Principles for Becoming an Expert. A well-rounded article, the writer discusses the primary principles necessary to become an expert in any given field when he says, “…becoming an expert takes hard work, focus, and dedication.”

Now most of us read this and reply with some variation of the phrase, “No shit.” It seems obvious, but think how many people want to do things and master things and can’t, simply because they fail to put the time in. And even putting the time in sometimes isn’t enough. If I sit down to write the Great American Novel but my mind keeps wandering as I write sentence after sentence (as sometimes happens with this blog), the final product won’t be the result it could and should be. Hence, the third principle of the article: focus.

the focus of chuck norris

When I was a kid, my dad, known humorously to our family as Chuck Norris, used to pseudo-joke with me and my siblings on this principle. We would be vacating his immediate presence to do something of substance – take a test, go up to bat, ride our bikes for the first time without training wheels – when he would say, “Hey…” we turn around, at 7 years old already knowing what he was going to say, when he put up his hand vertically between his eyes, fingers together and straight, and says, “…focus.”

Our very own Mr. Miyagi 🙂

But the guy was onto something. Even as we rolled our eyes and walked away, quietly smirking and praying none of our friends heard him, we knew he was right. We just never admitted it.

mistakes and opportunity

One of the principal goals in our lives should be to master a craft, whatever you choose that craft to be. It could be cooking, making cabinets, or becoming an expert inbound marketer. It doesn’t matter. We need to choose something that makes us feel alive and then do this thing. Don’t rely on pleasant diversions to distract you from your goal and allow you to squander your time and money. Focus on a craft, a skill, a talent, and beat the crap out of it.

Enter stage right: mistakes.

The fifth principle of the post, “Make Mistakes,” was the one that resonated with me the most and initially inspired this blog post. I probably like this principle so much because I’m so good at it.

Our pasts are littered with a trail of successes and mistakes that brought us to where we are now. Some of our successes are a direct or indirect result of our mistakes.

Prime example: working my last 9-5 job before I went rogue, I made an uncountable number of mistakes day in and day out. The company sincerely tried to help me work on not making these mistakes, but they kept happening. Over and over again. If I did something well, I did something else that set me back. If I wrote one good piece, I wrote three others that were crap. It was a vicious two-month cycle that ultimately led me to question what the hell I was doing with my life, to quit, and to work toward becoming a writer full-time. On mastering the craft that makes me come alive. I call that a success. A success bred from a rapid-fire procession of mistakes.

While the road to mastering a craft is paved with good intentions, we will undoubtedly stumble and make mistakes. I make at least a dozen mistakes per blog post, but I know I gotta keep rolling. Mistakes create obstacles. Obstacles create opportunity. (insert the old adage of learning from our mistakes) We have to learn to embrace these obstacles, not treat them with disdain and frustration. When we do the latter our stress levels rise and our neurons don’t fire the way they should. But if we embrace the obstacles and treat them as opportunities, they serve a more personally beneficial purpose. According to Robert Greene in The 50th Law:

In general, obstacles force your mind to focus and find ways around them. They heighten your mental powers and should be welcomed.

In summation: we all make mistakes, we all face obstacles – even the experts. Without these things, the experts would not have become experts. James Joyce’s Dubliners was rejected 22 times before someone published it. Stephen King’s classic horror story Carrie was rejected 30 times.

What have you done lately, what mistakes have you made, what obstacles have you encountered on the road to living the life you want to live?

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One Response to “experts make mistakes too”

  1. 10,000 hours « livin' like a freebird Says:

    […] I wrote a while back about mastering a craft. Any craft, as long as it is something for which we are passionate. The sense of accomplishment and the absolute thoroughness with which we understand something – so much that it becomes a part of us – has no equal. […]

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