When you are first starting out learning a skill, or starting any new adventure in life, whether it’s lifting weights or starting a new career, it is easy to look at the people around you who are more established and expect yourself to be at their level.
Go at your own pace.
You are just starting out and while I absolutely advise setting high standards for yourself, there is a difference between setting a standard and trying to do something impossible. In most cases, by “lowering” your standards from perfection you are actually raising them, because now you have implemented a goal that you can actually achieve.
If you are just starting out running, don’t expect to run a 5 minute mile in a month, or even 6 months. As with everything, there are exceptions, but it’s more important to take baby steps rather than taking leaps and bounds right off the bat. This is where you are likely to either hurt yourself or your confidence, or both.
Develop Your Own Style
It’s very important to develop your own style in whatever you are doing. I have played tennis my whole life, since I was very young, and still play to this day. For a long time, especially when I was in middle school and high school, there was too much pressure on me. Both from myself and from my parents and coaches. I simply didn’t have my own style down. I was trying to ace every serve and crush every ball for a winner, when I simply didn’t have these strokes in my repertoire. I tried way too hard to live up to the stud image I had of myself in my head, totally dominating my opponents.
Then something interesting happened when I graduated high school and took a few years off from playing tennis. A few years had passed, and I decided to pick up a racket and play with my friends, just for fun.
Instead of trying to murder every ball that came my way, most of the time I just got the ball back in play, with lots of spin to make sure the ball dipped down, and then bounced high up so my opponent had to step back and hit off of their back foot.
(If you don’t know much about tennis, you want to be leaning forward aggressively with each shot, and hitting from your back foot puts you in a defensive position where you can’t put as much mustard on the ball. On the other side of the coin, hitting a heavy topspin shot puts a spin on the ball that makes the ball dip down. Doing this you can hit the ball high over the net and deep into your opponent’s territory while still having the confidence that your shot will go in. A high percentage, low risk shot with a high probability of putting your opponent on the defense.)
I kept on hitting this tough ball over and over, and by using my patience and low risk shots, I created opportunities where I had a chance to finish off the point with an easy winner, or my opponent would simply make an error and beat themselves.
I apologize to those of you who do not play or appreciate tennis, but the point I am making is that when I was in high school, I tried to dominate and hit winners every point. But when I loosened up and played at the pace that came naturally for me, I hit high percentage shots, and used my opponent’s game against them, letting them make errors or give me easy shots.
Instead of beating my opponents, I was letting my opponents beat themselves.
To further my point, and more important than my actual strategy in tennis, is that I played my own game, not the game that my parents and coaches wanted me to play. As soon as I realized that I needed to make my own decisions and go at my own pace, the best tennis of my life came to the surface naturally and effortlessly.
Learn From and Model Others – To a Point
When you are first starting out, a great way to develop your own style is to study and imitate the techniques and styles of people who are more experienced than you. For a young Venrick playing tennis, this meant watching players like Roger Federer and Marat Safin play. For a soccer player, Ronaldo and Messi are great role models. For an aspiring hedge fund manager, people like George Soros and Paul Tudor Jones. For a writer, authors like Hemingway and Vonnegut. You get the point.
By studying these people, watching them and absorbing how they play their game you give yourself not only inspiration and an idea of how you want your skills to look and feel like in the future, you also give yourself a role model to imitate. One of the best ways to learn is to practice the techniques of people who are already experienced professionals.
To this day, if I am just starting to develop a skill or technique, I look for people who are better than me and I literally try on their style like a costume.
Pretend you are that person.
Walk like they do.
Use the same words, phrases, body language, and gestures that they do.
Execute similar techniques and behavioral patterns.
It will do wonders for not only your confidence, but it will clarify your vision of how you want your skills to develop.
You probably have someone in your life like this to this day. Maybe it’s a poster on the wall in your room. Maybe there was a childhood hero you had. It could have been real or imaginary, I know that James Bond and Indiana Jones have had an impact on my sense of adventure, and authors like Tony Robbins and Napoleon Hill have impacted how I think about and set my goals.
However, these role models will only take you so far. You are not your role models. You are you, and you are the best person that you can be.
At some point you have to stop trying on different hats and find your own style. Approach obstacles and challenges from your point of view, not your hero or role model’s. And the great thing is, after you have practiced enough from another person’s point of view, using their style and tricks, you can break free from their ingrained patterns and start to develop your own, influenced from a mix of styles and spawned from your own creativity. This is where the fun really starts.
So stop caring about how your parents, coaches, teachers, friends, and James Bond and Indiana Jones think you should be. Don’t be closed off to advice, nobody likes a know-it-all. But be open to the positive things that you can pick up from these influences, blend them together and develop them into your own style through experimentation and creativity.
And most of all have fun. Go at your own pace, don’t rush, and appreciate the process of developing these new skills and moving forward towards your goals. If you embrace the moment and the challenges ahead of you with gratitude and enthusiasm, you may reach your wildest dreams in no time at all.