Do What You Suck At

June 20, 2011

One of my mottos for awhile now has been “You are only as strong as your weakest link”. This picture exemplifies the idea perfectly. When I was in Army Basic Training, that was one of the things they told us almost constantly. We had to do everything as a team, and if one person was wrong, you were all wrong. If one person wanted to keep the Kevlar helmet on instead of taking it off, we all had to keep it on. If one person got punished…well, that didn’t happen, we all got punished.

The point was that you HAD to learn to do everything as a unit, as a team, and that each person was as important as the next. You are being taught to pay attention to detail and you realize very quickly that even if YOU excel in one area, your Battle Buddy probably doesn’t, and to work together as a team, everyone has to come together to support and encourage and work on their “weakest link” before you can excel as a team.

Your body works as a team as well and if you don’t address your weakest link, you are shortchanging yourself. As a musician, you know that if you don’t work on your weak spots, you’ll never reach your full potential because being a musician is made of several “links” – scales, intervals, tone, technique, body awareness, attitude, work ethic, etc.

As for my title…

You’ll have to pardon the hanging participle and bad grammar….but it got your attention, didn’t it?

Here’s the point if you do what you’re good at, you’ll never get any better. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Sure, but what do we do? We do the things at which we already accel. Why? Because we like doing well, we like feeling that good feeling that comes with doing well, and when you do something well, it’s, well…..easy.

Another way to say “do what you suck at” is to say “work on your weaknesses”. Now, honestly if I had put that as the title, you wouldn’t have stopped by to read, would you? Not nearly as interesting. But the truth is there in both statements. When you take a good look at the areas in which you lack and you go forth and WORK on those weaknesses what happens?

Well, it’s hard.
It’s generally not much fun.
You might fail
….a lot.
But in the end, you end up succeeding and ultimately not only gaining a greater sense of achievement due to the feeling of overcoming something at which you used to not do well, but it gets easier from there for you to get better at it.

Two examples: music and fitness, of course 🙂

Fitness

Take your pick: squat, pushup or pullup.

Sure, there are other hard exercises like deadlifting and benching and rowing but in all honesty, these are tough for me and most women. Most people do a HORRIBLE job of squatting with good form. They either

  • don’t go low enough
  • elevate their heels and squat on their toes
  • have their knees cave in
  • point their toes way out

It’s sad really, because what should be easy to do (we did it as 2-year olds without another thought) becomes so much more difficult as we age.

Side note:
This is why I suggest EVERYONE get some training in Alexander Technique. It’s not just for musicians and you will relearn how to use your body the way God intended and the way you used to, as aforementioned 2-year old but with better motor skills 🙂

Walk into almost any gym in the country and undoubtedly you will see a lot of the same things: the treadmills, ellipticals and bikes will be mostly full (sadly, mostly with women), lots of people using machines, and in the free weight section, the few people you see will be mostly men, mostly doing chest and bicep exercises. Occassionally you’ll see a man doing a squat….probably only going half-way down with too much weight (because it’s always better to improve your ego by using too much weight with bad form than to use no weight with good form, right?) and even more rarely, you’ll see a lady in there, doing “toning” exercises with the pink dumbbells. She’s doing it because she knows she needs to do something but isn’t sure what, so she sticks to what’s safe, what isn’t challenging, and pats herself on the back for venturing into the “guy’s” part of the gym. And year after year the ladies on the treadmills wonder why their bodies haven’t changed the way they “should”.

The guys do their same routines for the same reason: they work the vanity muscles using some outdated routines they found in magazines (that really only work for newbies) because they don’t know any better, it’s safe, it’s what the other guys are doing and hey, what woman looks at a guy’s legs – they look at his GUNS right? And year after year, he does the same stuff, blindly going forward, his gains decreasing every year and wondering why.

I’ll tell you why. It’s because they don’t work on their weaknesses.


Music

Where is your weakness when it comes to music? Ignoring etudes, scales and technique exercises – only focusing on working on pieces? Not really “wood shedding” the music, but just playing it over and over again? Putting off memorizing something? Not practicing much at all?

As a musician, my biggest weakness is 1) not making the time to practice and 2) not giving myself structure during practice time….which leads to feeling like I”m just wasting my time, so I end up not practicing at all! If you are one of those musicians who has been out of school for awhile, you know how easy it is to get out of the habit of daily practice, espcially when you aren’t surrounded by other musicians pushing you, endless rehearsals and recitals. If LACK of practice is your nemesis, ask yourself why? And chunk it into manageable goals: 1) I will practice every day or every other day 2) I will work on these pieces and these exercises, etc. Just write it down and give yourself structure.

If there is something specific you suck at and you’re just avoiding it, it’s time to take the bull by the horns and go after it! If you are a person who plays by ear and has a difficult time deciphering rythms on the page…..well, you need to start reading more music with difficult rhythms. If you suck at sightreading, the only way to get better at sightreading is to sightread a LOT.

See how this works? Identify your weakness, have the courage to put your ego aside and say “ok, what do I really suck at?” and then do THAT.

Take your dreaded evil and look it square in the face and say

“Today , it’s you and me and while I may not conquer you today, maybe not tomorrow, I will not fear you, and I WILL do this”.

And from there, you start with Moyse Gamme Arpegge and work your way through 🙂

So Do What You Suck At

If you are a gym “bro” who splits his workouts into “chest days’ and “arm days”: have the courage to do a full body workout,

If you are a lady who does nothing but stay on the elliptical or do curls and crunches in the “guy’s part of the gym”, have the courage to pick up some 20 pounders or hire a personal trainer and learn how to do a real deadlift…I can tell you, there’s nothing more empowering than deadlifting your bodyweight (with excellent form) in a gym full of men who are doing superflous exercises (with bad form).

If you are a musician and you’ve been putting off attacking Berio’s “Sequenza” GO FOR IT! You just might find that it’s way more fun than you ever realized.

In the end, we all have to work on our weaknesses, because there is only so far you can go in the areas you already excel.



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One Response to “Do What You Suck At”

  1. alittleflute Says:

    Great post! I completely agree (even as I am nursing some DOMS from yesterday’s workout) with the notion of working on one’s weaknesses. When I was younger I attended a masterclass with Jeffrey Khaner who said he only practices what he can’t do. I thought he was crazy… how little I knew!


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