The Price You Pay For Success

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-by Matt Leedham

“The price for anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
– Henry David Thoreau

It can be difficult when you are in the “swamp.” That’s the place of origin of something unfamiliar or new. The “swamp” is the place you start when working toward a new goal. It’s a place of murky water, muddy ground, and a quagmire of resistance.

I’m currently in the swamp.

As our regular readers may recall, I set a fairly aggressive goal a few months ago. I committed, publically to the world, that I would be conversational in Korean by October of 2011. As most of you know, or might conclude, I’m not Korean. I have no previous knowledge of Korean other than “hello” and “thank you.” To be conversational was quite the mammoth goal to set.

As it turns out, learning Korean is not easy. Crazy, right?!

It’s true. It’s difficult, and here’s why:

  1. The alphabet is not Roman/Latin – it consists of symbols entirely unique to the Western world.
  2. The Korean language is known as an SOV language (Subject Object Verb), which is essentially the opposite of English. Meaning, each sentence is spoken “backwards.”
  3. There is a particular syllable in Korean that is almost unpronounceable. Seriously, it’s insanely difficult for Americans to pronounce.

As a competitive person that is a self-described high-achiever, not being good at something is very difficult to accept. But as it turns out, you must first be terrible at something before you can be good at it. Here’s a quote from Jaime’s post a few months ago about failing without giving up:

“Here’s the thing – you have to suck first before you get to be good at something. There is no cheat code in life. There is no movie montage through the difficult training that happens first. You literally have to slog through each and every day of being bad at something in order to get good at it.”

In fact, we know that there are no prodigies either. It’s not like it’s possible to be awesome at Korean right away, and I just don’t have the talent. No, even the most talented language learner needs to walk the long path of learning.

The problem lies in my ego. It’s embarrassing to be so terrible at something. I want to impress people with my skills but I just sound ridiculous now. Ego can hold you back in so many ways. It’s another form of judgment. I’m judging the process, I’m judging myself, and I’m judging what others will think of me.

I’ve learned that the quicker I can release those judgments the easier and more enjoyable learning a new skill becomes. I can be proud of my (incremental) progress, and I can appreciate the process of learning because it is so difficult.

In six months when I am actually speaking Korean, I will learn to appreciate this even more. I can tell the story of my “movie montage” through the difficult times. But only I will know how difficult it was and how much focus I needed to slowly become better and better.

Being bad at something is uncomfortable. Failure is uncomfortable. But successful people learn to become very comfortable at this stage. It’s their persistence that is the only difference between ultimate success and failure.

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