How to Become Professional at Anything

Seamstresses and writers, musicians and beauticians, chefs and film makers all want to know how to get better at what they do.

Being competent at something is a goal we all embrace. And so we study, read, hire coaches, ask questions in advice columns, and the list goes on.

Study study study…that’ll get you there.

But it won’t.

Because the problem is:

  • You cannot learn to write only by reading about writing.
  • You cannot learn guitar only by watching videos of guitar players.
  • You can’t become adept at braiding hair without touching someone’s head.

There is no replacement for doing.

As a writer, you learn pacing and style and voice by writing.

As a musician, you learn and become skillful in proportion to the amount of time your hands are on the instrument.

As a chef, you learn by burning everything to cinders in the process of perfecting your Five-Alarm Chili.

And, no, I’m not calling for an instant ceasing of all study.

Study as much as you want. Heck yes.

But then DO THE THING even more. And doing, of course, is in itself hands-on study.

How much time do you devote to this hands-on practice? That’s entirely up to you and the levels of proficiency you want to achieve.

And don’t just copy your competitor. It doesn’t matter how much time your competitor puts into it to achieve similar results. Fact is, everyone is probably built with different abilities. Ten hours of practice for Bob is not equivalent to ten hours of practice for Nancy, or you.

There is no replacement for doing.

What does matter is how much time you DO put in, in contrast to the time you DON’T put in. The ratio that really counts is how good you will be after putting in ten hours of practice, as compared to how good you will be if you only put in five.

And to get things done you also have to confront the tools of your trade, the space in which that trade is practiced, and even the actions involved.

How NOT to Get Things Done

Some people go about painting in this fashion:

“I’m going to paint something now.”

They go into the studio. They get their paper ready. They clean up a brush. They find a pile of empty paint tubes and make funny animal sculptures out of them. Then they clean up another brush. They leave the studio to make a sandwich. They go back in the studio and realize the paper they got out isn’t the right kind. They go do some research on the internet about proper papers. They clean some more brushes. Then they pick up the kids and that day is over.

That’s not confronting. That’s not painting. That won’t make you a professional.

How to REALLY Get Things Done

Confronting painting, on the other hand, would be this:

You go into the studio. It’s already clean because you confronted the mess the last time you were in there. You set up your paper, prepare a palette with paint, grab a brush, and start painting. The phone rings and you ignore it. The empty tubes get put in the trash and ignored. Your stomach grumbles and you keep on painting.

That’s doing.

No excuses, no sandwiches, no other fish to fry. Just painting.

And what about you?

What should you be doing? Is there anything you’ve been putting off?

Perhaps even more difficult to notice: is there anything you’re coyly dancing around? Something you’re putting effort and motion into, but only as an excuse to not really do The Thing?

What is it? Seriously, let me know. I’m really curious…

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3 Comments:
  1. Love it!

    And love the picture. I’m guessing the “CP” in the corner means you drew it?

    Anyway, guilty as charged. I do a lot of moving things around in my studio. Putting things here, then putting them there, then cleaning up. I have eaten up entire days doing just that.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post…as always.

  2. “You go into the studio. It’s already clean because you confronted the mess the last time you were in there. You set up your paper, prepare a palette with paint, grab a brush, and start painting. The phone rings and you ignore it. The empty tubes get put in the trash and ignored. Your stomach grumbles and you keep on painting.”

    Favorite part of this, you sit down, and you work no distractions and you just don’t get up till your done, the truth behind passion not even hunger can stop you.

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