Expertise Is Secondary. Flaws Are First.

I think anyone who strolls around the Interwebz at any point looking for an answer to any of life’s great questions will find themselves inundated with information from those looking to help. There are a variety of levels of expertise in those looking to help out as well – everything from utter charlatans to esteemed experts with a wealth of degrees or oodles of success.

If forced to pick, you want more superstar than snake oil in who is helping you, right?  Sort of hard (and kind of bat guano crazy) to argue against that.

For me, there’s actually something else I need along with the expertise and, in some ways, it may even be more important.

Authenticity from someone who has been through a struggle.

Maybe I’m alone in that sentiment, but I doubt it. I see plenty of people providing advice and their tact is one of “You should listen to me because I sit here oozing success out of every pore. All I do is win at everything I come across.”

C’mon now. Really?

Too. Damn. Early. I need someone with a few battle scars. Notched a few failures. Knows the feeling of getting up in the morning and, despite having a long-desired goal, has that moment of “Sweet mother of God… it’s… SO… DAMN… EARLY.”

There is a realness to showing your flaws that makes the advice to follow mean just so much more. Of course, even the highly-polished experts no doubt have had all those ugly moments… they just choose not to display them. Maybe they see it as a sign of weakness? And showing a single chink in the armor is the first step to the inevitable unmasking? I have no idea.

It’s also the fact that the person who has been through the struggles and found even a few fleeting moments of insightful brilliance has more to tell a person fighting their challenges than someone talking down to them from a place of glossy success.

It’s why I try so hard to never do this blog in any kind of way than a retelling of my own daily push for a bit more awesome and a bit less awful. Plus, it’s just much more accurate – for every moment of triumph where I let heave a battle cry, there are at least more 3 instances of stumbling and falling on my face.

And I’m good with that. My stumbles don’t embarrass me as much as they entertain.

And I’ll take that 3:1 ratio tradeoff for a good moment of victory.

The Plank in My Eye

I think I’m like many people who can be a total ace at passing out advice that I then do a less-than-ideal job of following for myself.  I don’t think there is anything remarkable about that in myself or in others – it’s just far easier to cast the penetrating light of truth upon a situation removed from myself than it is to see that same case in me.

2011 05 01 09 57 26 946

Case in point.  This past season of coaching baseball, one of the things we implored of our kids was to be aggressive and not fear the consequences that would follow.  If they were going all out and made a mistake in the process, ehh… that’s fine.  More often than not, their aggressive on the baseball diamond would be rewarded with something good than a mistake.  Plus, we kept reminding them… this is baseball.  A game.  Something to have fun with and not something with the future of mankind perilously hanging in the balance.  I think we made a bit of progress on this with a lot of the boys and I hope it sticks with them.  If there is one HUGE thing I’ve noticed in youth sports, it’s that the kids who are either the most aggressive or the least concerned about making mistakes are the ones who do best (and also seem to have the most fun).

And God forbid it all be it about fun.  I know… that’s a pretty nutty thing to say about youth sports.  We’re supposed to be prepping every little Johnny and Jane to be Olympic-calibre athletes from the time they are 6 right? (I will now seek to turn down my sarcasm a shade).

Getting back to the notion of seeing the speck in your brother’s eye while missing the plank in your own.  Yeah… that’s right… I just went Biblical.

A few weeks back I was playing a game in my basketball league and I was absolutely awful.  I mean… just… wow… I was really bad.  My time on the court seemed to serve little purpose outside spelling a teammate who needed to rest for a bit.  I was tentative and second-guessing and awkward.  It was probably one of the worst basketball experiences I’ve had in my life, outside of some bad Nerf hoop experiences when super young.  You know those where you are just starting to learn to play, but have an older brother who just swats away every shot you put up with that puffy orange ball?  So yeah, besides that, my worst outing ever.

Then it hit me loud and clear and with no small amount of force: I was exactly like one of the 10 to 12 year olds I had just finished coaching who didn’t seem to get out of his shell and just be aggressive.  Boom – head shot.  I sat there as a coach and felt I was so wise with all my perspective on the value of being aggressive and how you not only play better, but have more fun… and yet I never saw it in myself.

I played again last night, freshly self-chastised for coaching one way and playing another, and guess what?  I played much better, was much more aggressive, had a blast and smiled throughout a lot of the game (even at some of the awful calls made by our fine officials).  Heck, we won too.

The lesson in all of this for me is simple and direct: If I have an insight for someone else… whether while coaching or with someone coming to me for advice… I need to immediately take an opportunity to then look at myself in that same vein because chances are, I will need it as well to some extent or another.  I hope to make this a habit and given the fact that my very job involves me giving guidance to people on a daily basis, I think I can get some mojo going on this point.

It’s time to get that plank out of my own eye and see things a little bit more clearly… at least when looking at myself.

When People Ask For (But Don’t Actually Want) Your Advice

It’s fairly common for people to ask me for advice on their workout routines or diets since they know I take such an active interest in such things.  Invariably I discover that after several minutes of chatting, my friend really doesn’t want my advice (even though he thinks he does).  Here would be a typical conversation:

Friend: Kuz, I need to get rid of this gut and get in better shape.  I get sick all the time and I just can’t stand it any more.

Me: Sure!  More than happy to help.  Well, what are you doing for exercising right now?

Friend: Not much.  I have some stuff in my basement… you know a weight bench and a treadmill, but I never use them.

Me: OK, well you at least have access to something.  That’s a start.  What about your diet?  What do you usually eat?

Friend: Oh man, I eat like such crap.  I tend to have a bagel and coffee for breakfast, although I skip breakfast a lot.  I will have like a Subway footlong for lunch and then a bunch of different stuff for dinner.  Lots of takeout.

Me:  OK… hey, what about that Coke you’re drinking?  What’s that about 20 oz.?

Friend: Yeah.

Me: Well, how many of those do you drink a day?

Friend: I dunno… probably 3.

Me: Three of those?  Every day?  Please tell me you’re joking.

Friend: Oh no way.  I need 3 of them a day.

Me: *long sigh*  OK, well, I have a few ideas on where to start.  First off, you gotta cut out those Cokes entirely or, worst case scenario, switch to diet.

Friend: Oh c’mon!  I can’t ditch those and the diet tastes like crap.

Me: Dude, one of those 20 oz. Cokes is 240 calories of pure sugar.  You are downing… just on Cokes alone… over 700 calories a day.  And you get nothing out of it!

Friend: Well, I can’t get rid of it.  What about exercises? I need to lose this gut.  What kind of crunches should I do?

Me: Crunches?  That’s not going to make you lose your gut.  You need to do some full-body lifting and actually use that dusty treadmill.

Friend: Really?  But what about the crunches?  How am I going to lose that gut?lucy doctor stand

You see my dilemma, no doubt.  People will come to me for advice in an area I have  a fair amount of knowledge and experience, but they’re really just looking for an answer that will validate them doing exactly what they’ve been doing all along.  They want the results, just not that real downer piece about changing their behavior to achieve those results.  Definition of insanity.

This happens all the time in life and it’s obviously not limited to the fitness context.  People will have a friend who is really successful in the business world and want to know what they did to get where they are, who they networked with and so on.  They will be told, “Well, the networking piece is important, but honestly the way you win people over is just kicking ass at your job first.  That’s how people notice you. I’ve had to work my ass off and pull some late nights.  I also took on some extra projects that I came up with to improve things around where I work.”  The advice seeker will often walk away thinking “Yeah yeah yeah, I get the hard work thing, but the networking sets you apart” and misses the whole point of the conversation.

Lest I sound all curmudgeonly about this topic, I genuinely enjoy giving people advice and helping them work through issues.  Heck, the whole point of this blog is to do just that and show how I have tried to make my own improvements.  But it’s an important lesson of life that if you are going to seek advice (and you will need to many, many, many times in your days on this earth), shut down that devil’s advocate part of your brain while listening to the advice.  Remind yourself you are NOT a genius in that topic and THAT’S why you are seeking someone else’s guidance and wise counsel.  Definitely apply some critical thinking after the fact, but do so to yourself and not just what you heard.

Just think… if we all did this a little better, it would not only give you the chance to really improve yourself, but would also improve the requests you get yourself for advice.  Crazy talk, I know.

Now please excuse me… I need to go ask someone what’s the least amount of effort I would possibly need to become the next running back of the Dallas Cowboys… and I better not hear any of that jibba-jabba about hard work.  The nerve of someone all stomping on my dream like that.

%d bloggers like this: