Excellence is not a skill, it is an attitude.Ralph Morton
[For the record, I quite like Ralph Morton’s website, The Daily Motivator.]
Attitude determines altitude. God I hate that one, though it’s also true; to an extent..
Something about “altitude determines attitude” and the Marston quote just rubs me the wrong way, like you can attitude yourself to success.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been exposed to too many folks whose positive attitude regarding their abilities did not match their actual abilities.
It reminded me of a Demotivational Poster from despair.com.
There are some things I’m just never going to be able to do — complex mathematics, throw a football like Drew Brees (hell, or Bortles for that matter), run as fast as Usain Bolt, reach the top shelf — because I just don’t have the tools to do it.
However, riffing off of the Ostrich there, I can fucking rule the land if I can’t attitude my wings hard enough to fly (or learn how to pilot an airplane or hot air balloon).
I’m not going to attitude my way to fixing my car’s engine if it breaks down. I’m not going to attitude my way to replicating a Gordon Ramsay dish. If my pipe’s break, I’m turning off the water and then calling a plumber (walking the aisles in Lowes and thinking, “I can do that” is a recipe for disaster).
Excellence takes time. Yes, of course, your mindset and attitude matter.
Developing a skill is repetitive.
And can be dull.
Do you have the patience to grind it out day by day, making incremental improvements with no noticeable return until you become excellent at whatever it is you’ve chosen to do?
I think I had such a remarkably negative reaction to the quote because I had just been reading through posts on a blog I recently discovered, Stacking the Bricks.
One of the posts, Why Blacksmiths Are Better at Startups Than You, is about the British show Mastercrafts, which focuses on three people trying to learn a skill (blacksmithing, stonemasonry, and a few others).
In a nutshell, they all want to learn the skill, but want to learn it quickly. After some whining about how hard it is to do these things, they generally knuckle down and get to work.
Their initial attitudes are positive — that they’ll master the skill. Then that attitude ran into the brick wall of reality of actually learning to do the things.
As I read, I was reminded of Foster Holcombe, the glassblower at the Maryland Renn Fest.
Foster has been hand-blowing individual pieces for decades, a member of the art glass movement. My first Renn Fest was just north of Houston when I was in high school (and I wish I had a photo of The Ogre, a dude on stilts dressed like an ogre with a fart machine). Wandering around the grounds, I found Foster tucked in the back and watched my first glassblower demonstration — 20ish minutes from molten mound of glass and color chips to wine glass.
I was amazed.
Fast forward to now and II have an annual tradition of watching him within the first hour or so of going to the Maryland Renn Fest (now joined by my daughters, who also like to watch him make something). Oh, he moved to the Maryland Renn Fest the first year I went, 1995. His studio, Art of Fire, is in Gaithersburg, MD, which is where I lived for a while — the world is full of coincidences. Beautiful work, check it out at Art of Fire.
What I’d never really thought about is how long it takes to make what he’s doing look effortless.
It really is amazing the ease with which he creates a vase or a wine glass in the span of 20 minutes. I’m not sure he’s better now than he was 30 years ago, but his movements are so precise and natural now that he exudes excellence and competence.
As I’ve thought about my past year and looking forward to a new year and decade, I’ve come to face the harsh truth that I’ve never devoted that level of effort to developing my own craft.
That’s not to say I haven’t worked hard (more so in the past than last year, but still) or gained knowledge. What I haven’t done is taken the focused, step-by-step path of eating better, generating new clients, building muscle (mental and physical), and becoming a better content marketer.
You don’t get to wish your way to success.
If you don’t take daily, action-oriented steps, you have a dream, not a goal (much less a plan).
I’ve been told (and think, most days) that I’m a pretty good writer.
What I’ve never really done is sit down and think about writing.
That’s what I’m doing this year (along with a lot of other things in my life, including the short list above). It’s always going to be a journey. I hope I’m a little bit better at this tomorrow than today. And a LOT better (and thinner/healthier!) next year than as I type this on January 2, 2020. By, knock wood, 2030, I hope to be leaps and bounds better.
Excellence takes time.
Your attitude will keep you focused and on task, learning and then honing a skill.
Practice and action will take you the rest of the way.