July 1, 2019
At eight years old my son has now - or has been for awhile and is just more eloquently expressing that he's - been equating skillset with personal value. A few nights ago he handed me this note:
"I just feel not cool because everybody can twist their tongue. I just don't feel cool."
He's talking about how some folks are able to fold their tongue into a little hot dog bun, or like a straw, and right now it's a toss up as to whether he just hasn't figured it out or he's even genetically able.
What this inspired was a talk about how to differentiate between the few advantages genetics give us, which we can't really do anything about - we can't be taller, we have a speed cap, genes define our basic musculature - and literally everything else, and how that latter, larger segment has little to do with innate talent* and everything to do with practice.
You can't skate well because you haven't skated enough; you can't play guitar well because you haven't played enough; you can't dance well because you haven't danced enough.
You can hear the cadence of this maxim. You can't ____ well because you haven't practiced enough.
As we learn to equate skillset with practice, with cause and effect, the formula for improving your craft evolves from some kind of depressive, self-deprecating FOMO -- "I just can't design like she can" -- to an actionable statement of fact: "I can design like she can if I just practice enough."
The term deliberate practice exists to differentiate the "practice" in repetition, doing the same thing day-in and out (which can be an avenue for expertise, if done long enough), from consistent, systematic practice performed to see measured improvement of some metric.
Deliberate practice looks like:
playing guitar for at least thirty minutes every day to improve picking speed
running every other morning with the deliberate goal to improve your mile time
journey mapping once per week to improve your predictive accuracy
using a tool like Figma for thirty minutes every day to establish working, fluent knowledge of that tool
performing the same code kata every week with the goal of fully understanding every line and nuance
And if we, like my kiddo, are concerned by the disservice we do to ourselves** by lacking a particular skill, then there's only one thing to do: git gud.
* Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers would remind us that it certainly has a lot to do with innate advantage.
** Whether or not lacking a skill actually matters is a different tangent, I think. For instance, a UXer's lack of coding skill probably doesn't actually matter in the market. So feeling that lack of skill may have more to do with FOMO then anything else, and it's the FOMO we should address.
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