Embrace The Suck

The idea of “genius” is a bit of a farce. Popular culture teaches us to laud certain people for their genius capabilities and achievements. These creative people are positioned as above the rest, as possessing some type of gift that “normal people” simply do not have.

What does this lead to? Well, to start, it leads to a majority population that just assumes it can’t accomplish anything great. Leave art to the Picassos, music to the Beatles, math to the Einsteins. The cult of genius and idol worship has led to a populous that can Monkey See but can’t Monkey Do. What really makes a “genius” isn’t some sort of divine gift, but instead usually a lot of hard work.

There’s a Chinese saying, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” When you plant a tree, do you plant the seed and suddenly see a 100-foot tall tree? No. It starts as nothing and slowly becomes something. When you first start doing something—anything— you’re going to suck at it. The military saying “embrace the suck” is one of my favorites. Zen is all about embracing the suck, because here’s the secret: there is no suck.

One of my favorite bands is the Minutemen. They were an early hardcore punk band from San Pedro, but they didn’t sound like hardcore punk. They bought instruments before they knew how to play them, and played total garbage for a few years. But then they figured out their musical chops on their own and began playing punk rock that sounded like nothing that had ever come before it. They embraced the suck because they didn’t care about skill. They just wanted an outlet for creative energy. In divorcing themselves from any expectations of success or mastery, they made history.

If you keep doing a thing over and over again for long enough, you will develop a unique skill for it. You need not possess anything outside of the discipline to work at it every day. This is the essence of Zen. You simply do what you have to do without thinking of results. Play guitar for an hour a day and in a year you’ll be able to play shows. Paint a bit each day and you’ll have a portfolio before you know it.

The key is to enjoy the benefits of embracing the suck without caring about the results. Just let your art come out, let your relationship skills develop, let your business acumen build at its own pace. Don’t force it and don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Don’t pretend to be a genius. No one is a genius. There are just people who know how to get things done and people who don’t. Go on— get off the internet and do something you’re bad at. Embrace the suck.

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