I suck at Photoshop. For years, I’ve posted ugly images alongside Lifehacker posts because I’m not a designer, and whenever I put a little effort into composing an image to go along with a post, it never magically looked incredible. The reality: I was lazy. I may never be Massimo Vignelli, but that doesn’t mean I should remain a design idiot my entire life.Chances are you suck at something, too. And like me and Photoshop, you opt for ignorance over improvement. Step into my cyber-office; we need to cyber-talk.
You Don’t Have An Aptitude For Everything
I’m going to blow your mind: You aren’t innately great at everything the first time you try it. In fact, there are very few things you’ve instantly excelled at. You may have played a mean game of Tetris the first time you wrapped your hand around an NES controller (or joystick or whatever your preferred gaming apparatus is), but you had to practice and learn a few things before you could consistently clear giant row after row.
You’ve likely erased much of your personal growth from memory, but even when you’ve had an aptitude for something straight out of the birth canal, you’re hardly great at anything the first time you try it. Most of the time, the difference between the things you’ve improved at and those you haven’t — like me and Photoshop — is simply a matter of fun.
You’re familiar with this story of personal growth. It feels good to do something well. You pat yourself on the back on a job well done, and in the best case, you also get a little better at what you’re doing. It’s rewarding, so you’re motivated to do it again, so you rinse and repeat. You know this pretty well. It’s how you got good at your job and various hobbies.
The other story is easier to ignore: You try something new and the result is awful. Your ego takes a hit because you’re not always excellent, and you convince yourself that you don’t take pleasure in that thing anyway. You’re not good at that thing, it’s not what you’re really interested in anyway, so why bother?
Consider the opening of the Wikipedia entry on aptitude:
An aptitude is an innate component of a competency (as opposed to knowledge, understanding, learned or acquired abilities (skills) and attitude) to do a certain kind of work at a certain level. Aptitudes may be physical or mental. The innate nature of aptitude is in contrast to achievement, which represents knowledge or ability that is gained.
In short, aptitude is mostly shit. It means you’re competent without trying. Nobody wins a Nobel Prize for being competent, just like you don’t win an Olympic medal without trying. (Fine, neither of us have won a Nobel or Olympic medal. [If you have, email me. We should talk about a guest post!]) You’ve gotten good at the things you’ve worked at. You’ve told yourself you’re bad at the things you weren’t born with an aptitude for. Instead of developing any amount of competence, we often opt for ignorance. Which brings me to where we started.
I Suck At Photoshop
I suck at Photoshop. (More specifically, I’m bad at design, but it’s become lingua franca among our wacky computer generation to use Photoshop as a substitute for the discipline of graphic design.) Only I don’t really suck at it. Up until the last month, though, whenever I’d open Photoshop and put the smallest amount of effort into using a tool I knew next to nothing about, the results were either underwhelming (occasionally) or horrendous (frequently). Case in point at right. (That’s a computer that’s “gone green”!)
Then, five or so weeks ago, I decided to actually try to learn one or two things about how to use Photoshop. And I made an effort to learn a tiny bit about type. After a week, I’d learned a couple of really easy tricks, and believe me when I tell you: I suck considerably less! In fact, I’ve even made a few images I’ve been really proud of. (Below: look at that fancy text in the image! It’s not perfect, but it’s not terrible!).
Sucking less has made all the difference.
Footnote: A lot of this probably has to do with my wife’s current run at design school (I can’t let her be great at something I’m completely terrible at). Also, the program itself [Photoshop] doesn’t really matter. I hardly do anything that requires the horsepower of Photoshop. We could just as easily be talking about MS Paint here.
There’s Almost Nothing You Can’t Get Better At
I’m not a great designer. But I had to remind myself that there is no reason for me to be a terrible designer. Most of the time, I’m now good enough for what I need to do, and that’s a serious difference. There are so few things you can’t get better at with even a little concerted effort.
You can’t do anything you put your mind to, because you live in the real world. But you sure as hell can get better at nearly anything you’re bad at. Hell, what could be easier than improving at something you suck at? The bar is so low. You’re going to have a significantly harder time at improving at something you’re already good at. Frankly, you should revel in the things you suck at. What a fantastic opportunity to grow with hardly any effort!
Consider that we live in a time where we have unprecedented access to information of nearly any kind. If I’m bad at cooking eggs over easy, I can spend five minutes watching a video on YouTube and solve that problem. If I make ugly presentations for work, I can take great advice from someone else who’s not a designer by trade. If I’m no good at budgeting my distractions, there’s a website that’ll guide me through how to limit visits to time-wasting web sites.
The main barrier to all of these things: You have to earnestly give a damn about wanting to get better at something (as opposed to passively accepting defeat). You don’t have to be the best. But there’s no reason you should be quite so bad.
What Do You Suck At?
I’m not saying that you have a moral imperative to improve at everything you’re not good at. But when it comes to things you’re bad at that you have to do from time to time? Those are the things you should get better at. It’s easy to let these things linger for years (I know this from experience), but it’s also extremely rewarding once you finally decide to get better at something you’d convinced yourself you’re terrible at (I also know this from experience).
So the question is: What do you tell yourself you’re bad at when you’re really just lacking effort and experience? Or if you’ve been in a similar boat to me and Photoshop, what had you always considered yourself bad at until you spent a little time improving? Let’s hear about it in the comments.