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The barely motivational guide to being really, really good at something

Wishing you were good at something and putting those inspirational quotes up on your wall does absolutely nothing to help you be better. This is what works, at least for me!

Work hard. This is such basic advice, but perhaps this is more difficult to understand for people my age or even younger. We live in an exciting time where everything is instantly available - information, networks, opportunities, and many of the tools we need to become who we want to be. We have also been raised by parents who tended to spoil us and tell us that we are meant for great things, resulting in a feeling of entitlement. At the end of the day though, we still have to wade through the thick sludge of mediocrity by putting in the time to practice, practice, and practice some more.

I like to say that talent is cheap. Everybody is talented in some ways, but the ones who distinguish themselves are the ones who have worked hard and invested a lot to acquire a level of mastery over the subject.  

Invest in knowledge. Learn as much as you can about the topic. Google is your BFF, always, but I also recommend buying reference materials that might have information you can't find for free. In my case I purchased LOTS of watercolor books because I found the information online either too sparse or random. I needed a systematic way to learn how to paint so I hunted down printed books for reference. Yes, print. It's hard to digest art-related books on a screen for some reason.

I also attended workshops in Singapore so I can see how international artists paint. Locally, I try to study the techniques of my favorite artists and attend their workshops. The next step for me would be to either study painting formally or study under a mentor (this is what I'm leaning towards). This will take a lot of money and time, so I can't do it at the moment, but I hope to in the near future. In the meantime I'm still trying to learn more! The process never really ends.

If you're the smartest, most talented person in the room, GTFO. Find a group or a community where you're  the lowest common denominator. You need to realize that you suck at what you do so you can get better at it. The best way to come upon that insight is to be surrounded by people who are way ahead of you in terms of skills, talent, intelligence, name it. 

The awesome thing about the internet is that you can find many individuals and circles who are willing to let you in and mentor you. I think that kind of generosity is harder to come by in face-to-face sItuations, but when you do come across it, take advantage and learn as much as you can.

Publish your work online. Your stuff can't exist in a vacuum, because you need feedback from both friends and strangers to fine tune it. What do people like to see? What isn't getting so much love? It's a nice way to see your strengths and weaknesses from another angle.  

Consume praise in moderation. Praise is awesome. It makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. It makes you feel loved and validated. It makes you feel like talent is oozing out of your very pores. But praise also has the power to make you complacent and lazy. If you're so good at something, why should you bother working hard to improve? 

Praise is awesome, but taking to heart too much of it will make you mediocre. Always take praise with one eye on your work thinking, "How can it be better?"

Receive criticism with grace. One Filipino trait is that when someone criticizes another person, they're just "inggit" of your achievement. That may very well be the case - sometimes. But not all the time. You have to know when the criticism is honest. It may not be said in a manner that's constructive, but there is always information to be gleaned from it that you can use.

Periodically and intensely hate your work. Just when you think, "Hey, I'm actually pretty good!", fall into a black hole of despair. There is no light. Your work is horrible, how could you have thought that it was worth showing other people? Or finishing, for that matter? Why bother picking up that pencil or brush or typing anything on your laptop? Maybe you should just keep your head down and not make anything anymore.

Stay in the black hole for a while. 

A little longer.

Then emerge with a renewed purpose. If you decide not to, that's ok. Maybe it's just not for you. It's ok to let things go indefinitely or even forever. Try something else and you might love it enough to master it! I believe with all my heart that nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it AND take concrete steps to make it happen. It's never easy, but nothing you care about is.


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