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Getting Better and Learning Lessons
12.25.10

 

Every day I strive to do a little better. I know that sounds incredibly corny, but I actually do try to do that -- in almost everything I would say. Sometimes it's something with a long, interminable road (like writing better) and other times it's something with a defined outcome (like this documentary I'm working on.)
 
It's one of the most exciting things for me -- to learn something new, to get a small piece of feedback that improves something -- to know that you're working on building something or improving on something. 
 
It's also sometimes excruciatingly painful.
 
When I was younger, I almost never took feedback well. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was overconfidence or insecurity or just plain hard-headedness. This cost me big time. It's cost me in sports, in school, and in my career. Maybe, though, it was because it often just feels bad to get negative feedback. Obviously it depends on how that feedback is conveyed and it also depends on how one takes it -- but I think it takes a lot to just take constructive feedback in for what it is -- constructive feedback.
 
I've worked really hard in the past few years to take in feedback -- as much as possible and I personally think it's paid off a lot in many areas where I've wanted to grow. In some cases it's something where there are very low stakes (like learning magic or singing -- both of which I do for a hobby and getting corrections from an instructor) and other cases there are higher stakes typically involving money, career, or family. Obviously who you get feedback from and how it's given to you is critical. Bad feedback is bad feedback -- but great feedback is incredibly valuable and very much appreciated.
 
I had a moment earlier tonight where I reviewed something and realized that I made a big mistake. It hit me hard and it was one of those moments where you're just kind of thrown off-kilter for a good hour or two. Then I set about trying to figure out how to correct and what the best next steps were and that at least got me working on a solution. But that being said, it was still a body blow -- and those are always unpleasant.
 
The very stark reality of this situation though (and I'm deliberately leaving details out because I don't want to embarrass people involved with it) -- is that as much as it sucks that I made this mistake, I had to make the mistake in order to correct it. 
 
Another trait I had when I was younger was that I planned, and planned, and planned. Probably because I feared failing and looking bad. I probably still plan way more than the average person -- but I pushed myself to plan less and ship more. Get out the door more, try more, and FAIL more. Because I would learn faster and get better faster. That's proven to be true. What's also proven to be true is that it does suck when you fail and you do look bad and you do feel bad.
 
I study magic with a great magician named Shoot Ogawa. He's won close-up magician of the year from the Magic Castle twice and he's probably most known for his coin work. During one of our sessions where we worked on coins, Shoot was critiquing some of my work and I kept dropping the coin. He said, "Don't worry, I've dropped thousands of coins in my life."
 
That kind of says it all doesn't it?
 
I'm not trying to compare myself to a world class magician -- but at the core of it, Shoot is good because he failed and got better from his failures. On most days, I'm excited by learning new things and getting better. On the days when I feel bad about screwing up, I try to remind myself to focus on the process and it's ok to fail. The key is to learn from it. It's how I get better.

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