“So first off, understand that no matter what you try, in the beginning its gonna suck. ‘Cause you suck. But you’ll get better, and you’ll suck less as you keep doing this, and eventually you’ll suck so little that you’ll actually be good! But just surrender to the fact that you’re gonna suck.” — Garrett White:
This last weekend at the home convention of the world’s oldest science fiction fan organization, I was given the Forrest J. Ackerman (“Forry”) Award for Lifetime Achievement in the field of science fiction. And while still basking in those warm feelings, I thought to speaking about the most important quality that made possible the books and television and radio and millions of published words that people found worthy of celebration.
Because as Jerry Pournelle once told me, “once you master anything, you know how to master anything else.” True words, and one of the most important reasons to get really good at SOMETHING in your life…so that you have the basics you need to understand how “excellence” really works. And once you know that…the world is yours. Your LIFE is yours, whether you are talking career, relationships, or fitness. Its all the same stuff, so long as behavior influences results.
In any arena of life, there are skills that you have, and skills you need to acquire. And one of the biggest problems that stop people from ever being really good at anything is impatience and self-judgement.
I remember wanting desperately to be a professional writer. I knew NO ONE who had ever done such a thing. My mother and teachers all discouraged me from doing it, and so I tried, I really tried to stop writing when I went to college. Took courses in radio, journalism, speech…all clustered around communication, but never stuck my toe into the creative writing pond. Then one day I took a class with a lady we’ll call Sarah. I was raw, and hopeful, and had my little handful of dreams I laid before her.
One guy in the class (call him Mike) was a tall, handsome, brooding type. He and I were the hardest-working writers in that class, but very different. Mike wrote moody pieces about motorcyclists who repaired old junker bikes, then drove up to the top of the local hill and looked down on the town and contemplated mankind.
I wrote stories about towns like that getting eaten by giant amoebas. Oh, well.
Sarah slavered over Mike, praised him and batted her eyelashes with him. Much later I found out that they were having an affair, but even with no idea about that, I was frustrated: just couldn’t get her attention, or anything approaching a positive comment.
One day after she had finished glowing all over him, I asked her point blank what she thought of my writing, and she derisively called me “the king of slick” and said that what I was doing wasn’t REAL writing.
Everyone laughed, including Mike. I’ve heard other people speak of similar moments, and some wither. And some, like Harlan Ellison’s tale of the infamous Dr. Shedd, bare their teeth.
No, I didn’t say “I’m great! You just don’t know!” I was realistic enough to know that I wasn’t good enough. Yet.
But there was something I knew that the others didn’t. I’d watched Mike’s face on the rare occasions when someone in the class dared to criticize one of his (admittedly VERY well written) stories. He flinched. He got angry, even if he disguised it with a carefully cultivated air of superiority. HE DIDN’T LIKE IT AT ALL. And…shut them out.
And I KNEW that if I was going to be a professional writer, I had to eat the pain. Had to be willing to hear whatever painful truth I could learn about my work. I had to let myself be hurt. Again, and again, and again.
Which meant I had to find a place inside myself that was safe, so that the “external” me could take the hits without putting up walls. “you can’t take criticism” I smiled inside. And I can. And that’s why I’m going to make it, and you aren’t.
And…to my knowledge he never published a thing.
And armed with the belief that deep inside I had what it took, I slogged on, and on, through rejection after rejection. You can kill me, but you can’t stop me.
THAT was the attitude. And that attitude has, in combination with modeling success, gotten me everything I have in life.
Yeah, I suck. But if I keep going, learning something new every day, eventually I’ll suck less. And if I keep going, eventually I’ll suck so little I”ll be good.
Anything worth doing well is worth doing badly at first. In writing, that’s your first million words. In martial arts, that’s being on the receiving end of countless throws and blows, and feeling horribly clumsy and confused in every class.
In relationships it is learning to communicate and read communication, learning to present yourself as attractively as possible, learning to BE a healthy human animal instead of “faking” it with “How To Pick Up Chicks/How to Make a Man Fall In Love With You” tricks and tips.
In all cases asking yourself who would you have to BE to get the results you want, and committing to becoming that person. And having the deep faith that within you is the capacity to do this, that it is your destiny, your chosen life path.
Yes, rejection hurts. The more you care, the more it stings. So…find the love inside you, and connect it to the commitment to be your best and most authentic self. Somehow, you have to find that faith that you have the capacity to fulfill your dreams. “What if I can’t? What if I’m not enough?”
Long ago, back in college, a lady asked me: “what if your dreams are too big, Steve? Aren’t you going to be disappointed?”
And I smiled at her. “Let’s say that at the moment of death, you get clarity on your life, everything you really are, all illusion removed. If at that moment I saw that I’d aimed too high, my attitude would be `hey. I had a hell of a ride.'”
But what if at that moment I saw that I could have had anything I’d wanted, if only I’d had the guts to go for it. THAT would feel like hell. That would be misery.
Any time you wonder if you’re asking for too much from life, ask yourself one simple question: “how long am I going to be dead?” And armed with the answer to that, GO FOR IT.
It took a million words to find my voice.
It took seventeen years to earn my first black belt
I didn’t find my soulmate until I was forty-five.
I never lost hope. Never quit.
Even though, frankly…I sucked.