You are NOT your Shitty Skills

Kellee Weinhold

By Kellee Weinhold, TPII Productivity Coach

Welcome to the Productivity Post and Podcast! Each Tuesday, I post a short blog post and (sometimes) a recorded coaching session.  For earlier posts see the “Productivity” category (right hand sidebar)


Practice Makes Perfect.

We’ve all heard it. I would go far as to say that we have all applied that idea to some aspect of our lives at some point or another.

Identify a desired skill. Implement a plan to reach it.  This begins by rolling out the internal communications plan to make it happen:

I want to make challah. I’ll find recipes. I’ll take a class. I’ll make a loaf. Hmmm. Ok. But that needs work. I make a few more. I give it to friends. They tell me what’s right and not quite so right based on their challah desires. I try again. After all, practice makes perfect.  Right.

The pithy segue here would be for me to go on about how writing is like making good challah: The fastest way to get better results is to keep doing it. Get feedback. And do it some more.

At which point, you would be completely justified in wandering away muttering, “No f-ing duh, Kellee!”

I think we can all agree that writing often will make you a better writer. But writing often is not the skill most academics are pursuing. The skill many of you have devoted the most effort to mastering is NOT writing.

Yep. You all are very,very, VERY skilled at NOT WRITING.*

That’s what I want to challenge you to examine this week: How and why not writing is one of your major skills.

First thing to notice: You didn’t get good at not writing overnight. You got good at not writing by implementing a regular practice.

Second thing to notice: If you kept up that practice of not writing, it probably wasn’t that long before you started to believe that you were never good at writing.

Third thing to notice: After some amount of time and action (or lack thereof) you translated that belief into a core belief. It is no longer simply that you aren’t writing, now you are a person who doesn’t write.  You are flawed.  Uniquely flawed.  A failure….  Et voila, a practice becomes a skill becomes an identity.

I make challah. I make good challah…. Ergo, I am a baker?

No…  See how silly that sounds?  That “identity” (baker) doesn’t automatically follow the skill.  More accurately: you make good challah.  That’s it. You learned a skill.

First lesson from aforementioned examination: You are not your skills. Your skills may be: Not writing; Struggling with writing; Avoiding writing. Not particularly valuable skills for sure, but still, just things you DO. They are NOT identities. They are not YOU.

Second lesson: You learned and perfected those skills just the way you learned all of your other skills, by repeating them. To unlearn them, or more accurately to replace them, requires the same steady repetition and reinforcement.

Third and final lesson/bitter pill: There is no magic pill to become good at something except doing it, getting feedback and doing it again. (You had to know I would bring it back to the whole practice makes perfect, challah is like writing thing, right?)

So, just for today. Open your document and write one sentence. Not a perfect sentence. Not even a crafted sentence. Just a shitty, no-one-will-ever-see-this-but-me sentence. The beginning-of-a-new-practice sentence.  Then implement your new internal communications plan:

I want to write every day. I’ll look for spare moments. I’ll accept that one sentence is writing. I’ll share it with a writing partner. I’ll do it again tomorrow.

* At least until you join UNSTUCK!

About Karen

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions–University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I’ve created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don’t.


Comments

You are NOT your Shitty Skills — 1 Comment

  1. In “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the importance of regular practice to success. Worth reading.

    Regular practice is difficult to do, however, if writing is just plain unpleasant. See https://decannomics.com/2017/08/28/24-no-sweat/

    One suggestion to overcome this unpleasantness is to edit the work of others. This is often easier to do than writing. Critiquing the work of others, especially those with equivalent writing abilities and problems, yields useful insights into one’s own writing. Founding a writing group is helpful too, as the added social pressure helps.

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