Okay, after I don't know how many years, I think I may have figured out the trick, the secret, the thing NO ONE TOLD YOU, about how to become good at something. Except, I suspect someone did tell me at one point, but I wasn't listening.
I had given a conference talk where the audience was a tough one: they were quiet and somewhat non-responsive to my interaction attempts. I had been warned that this was expected, so I wasn't overly concerned. The post-talk feedback was positive.
I don't believe the subsequent speaker had been warned. Her interaction attempts were stronger, and they faltered just as hard as mine had. Whereas I just kept right on talking, I think the non-response threw her a bit. She spoke nervously for the rest of the talk.
The content of her talk was fantastic, the presentation well put together. She was engaging and delightful in small groups. So other than the audience, what was the difference between the two of us? What made her nervous in a way I wasn't after the same experience? I pondered those questions on my walk from the venue back to my hotel that evening.
And that's when I came across the secret no one told you (and by you, I mean me, and by no one, I mean, again, someone):
"Be willing to look like a dork."
Embarrassment about what others think has to be the biggest block to any learning. Embarrassment of looking silly. Embarrassment of looking stupid for asking the question everyone else is wondering about but no one is willing to make. Embarrassment of making a mistake because NO ONE EVER MAKES MISTAKES.
In sports as a kid, I couldn't hit the ball, make a basket, kick a ball, or do any of the skills necessary to succeed in sports. Everyone was laughing at me (they weren't). Everyone was better than I was (they weren't).
What if I hadn't cared and kept trying anyway?
My first few years (and by few, I mean ten) of going to a gym were a full-on waste of my time. Everyone is watching me (they weren't). I'm doing this wrong (so what).
What if I had embraced looking goofy and kept trying?
My first public speaking engagement was a thorough disaster. "We shall never speak of this again," were my words to Jonathan as I stepped off the stage after the talk. I still cringe when I think of that talk.
What if I had been willing to look like a dork and try again?
I was willing. And I still look like a dork when I talk, on stage and off. I am now okay with my style of full-body talking. I am okay being the gangly, embarrassed kid I was years ago, in a way that I wasn't okay with when I actually was that kid.
I'm willing to look like a dork in front of a crowd of 200 people to have the opportunity to share some knowledge that excites me, to have the opportunity to show them how to make some part of their work lives easier. I'm willing to blunder through some failed attempt at interaction to know what direction to take the talk.
On the walk back to the hotel, I decided that has to be how you get good at something: you care more for the skill than you do about what others think about your learning the skill.
You're willing to look like a dork.