Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Be a master of your craft.

Published: 29 Feb 2012

My son is struggling with reading now. He just doesn’t practice. He doesn’t really want to practice but he desperately wants to read. He starts gets frustrated at the first hard word and gives up.

It’s a hard thing to explain to him about practice. Why must we practice and why we must never stop. He finally got it the other day while I was reading.

He came up to me and said, “Dad, how can you read without using your words?” I explained that with practice that happens. But more importantly, I told him that there were words I didn’t know. Words I had to look up (eschatological, as a recent example.) It wasn’t a big deal to not know a word. It’s ok to not know all the words as long as you keep practicing and know how to get answers.

Knowing how to get answers is a learned trait.

We all have to learn how to learn. It doesn’t come naturally and it certainly used to be hard. Not really any more. Now it’s easy. We have access to the Internet, in all its glory. I can be an expert on any subject in the world.

I can read about it on Wikipedia, take classes through the Kahn Academy or even MIT. There is no subject I could not desire to master and not have the means. That’s a surreal experience.

Except very few people know how to accomplish it.

Enter the help vampire.

In the tech world, there is an old concept of a help vampire. I’m not sure if this carries over into other sectors, but I’m sure there are similar categories of people.

People who rely on others to spoon feed knowledge (or even better, solutions) to them. This always worries me, especially in skilled labor positions. We have a craft, we should excel in our crafts and care deeply about it.

We should practice and study, finding new ways to succeed. Unfortunately, this is not typical. That’s ok and a story for another day.

Master your craft, then master it again.

That different level of expertise I have with computers in comparison with the average person is wide. It’s not a fair comparison; and it certainly does not carry over to a pool which is filled only with software developers. Once I’m in that group, I feel I just barely scrape by as an average developer. That pushes me to continue to study techniques, focus on what’s happening around me and learn.

If I didn’t compare myself to those I should (software developers), I wouldn’t improve. I would think I’m awesome and stagnate.

You only improve by playing against a stronger opponent.

Losing and failing is awesome. Being weak and needing to be spoon-fed is not.

That’s what we need to teach and teach it well. I really hope I can teach my son that, because right now he hates failure.