Are you humble enough to be awful?

In a recent interview on the One Thing webinar with Jay Papasan, author Rachel Hollis asked a question that caused me to stop my car, pause the recording, and make a note. She asked:

Are you humble enough to be awful?

Learning and Mastery

What an interesting way to frame the matter of learning something new.

We all know already that in order become good at something, we must work hard, and we must put in the time. Malcolm Gladwell has told us that it takes about 10,000 hours to gain mastery of a skill. And Carol Dweck has shared that if we adopt a growth mindset, we can see that anything can be learned, over time, and that learning can be gratifying.

Mastery feels wonderful. To know something so well, to have your processes hum along with efficiency and effectiveness, I get chills just thinking about how awesome that feeling is!

Here’s the thing though: in order to get there, we generally have to move through a phase of doing something terribly.

We must start at the beginning

When I first got licensed as a Realtor, I didn’t know how to do anything.


Yes, we have pre-license education, and really, it’s about how to pass an exam. We learn the basics of agency relationships, fair housing laws, and a rudimentary framework of what’s involved in serving a client, with a focus on forms and procedure.

This is very important information, to be sure. Yet one thing that most licensees including myself merge wondering is: How do I GET the clients? And then, hopefully how do I build a business?

We have to learn from scratch just like most other things in life.

For me, my first clients were buyers, because I was completely intimated by the process of listing a house. I didn’t want to go anywhere near a seller for at least the first three years of my career (which, by the way, began in the great recession when sellers’ home equity had plummeted and the media was asking us if the American dream of home-ownership was in fact a great big lie) because the thought of not being able to deliver for a home-seller chilled me to my very core.

So off I went, haphazardly seeking to convince various people that we were actually in the greatest buying opportunity window of a lifetime, and that they should choose me to help them take advantage of it.

I didn’t know how to pre-qualify a client.

I didn’t know how to sell a foreclosure.

And even after I successfully sold one foreclosure, I had to learn all over again for the next client, who was buying from a different bank that had different rules and paperwork.

This happened over and over and over again in those early years of my career.

Luckily, I had a great sales manager who took many phone calls from me over the first few years, answering my questions to the best of his ability.

I made LOTS of mistakes.

Some of those mistakes affected my clients and I had to tell them that I had screwed up, not understood something, or let a critical detail slip by.

In short, my service was awful.

These screw-ups were due to my not knowing what I didn’t know (unconscious incompetence) and/or lack of proper systems to keep track of all the moving parts.

Those were difficult conversations. I never wanted to feel like I let someone down, and yet I did feel that, on many occasions.

Check your ego at the door

When we are serving others and the stakes are high, it behooves us to practice and prepare, and to make sure that we have seasoned advisers who can help us. There’s no question about that.

At the same time, I want to be very clear that we need to be ready to do something poorly. We need to expect that that will happen. Because it’s a reality of learning anything and everything.

You can study medicine for years and yet will you going to be allowed to perform surgery on a living being without any practice beforehand? I don’t think so. I suspect you need to perform crappy surgery on a couple of cadavers beforehand.

(Please God, let this be true. Otherwise I pray that none of us will ever require surgery.)

You can study all the books on airplane flight that exist on this planet, yet I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to pilot an Airbus full of passengers without first crashing a few times in a flight simulator program.

This is about practice, and it’s also about doing something poorly.

Some things in life will come easy to you, and other things in life will come easy to me.

Yet when something doesn’t come easy, we can still master it. We just need to suck at it for a while first, and keep on going.

What is the thing in your life that you dream of doing, yet your ego is preventing you from moving toward, because you’re so afraid to suck?

And are you really afraid to suck at it?

Or are you afraid of what other people will think of you when they see you suck?

I’ll be honest. I don’t want other people to see me suck.

There are moments when I resist that with all the energy of my being.

And yet that’s my ego.

That’s me putting what other people think about me ABOVE my desire to gain mastery.

And that’s not helping anybody get anywhere.



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