You Suck

Not just a linkbait headline. I seriously mean it. If you’re not wealthy by your chosen profession,
if you’re not regarded as a top leader in your field, if your peers don’t want to lick you alive,
you suck. Because there’s no middle-ground anymore. There’s no good enough anymore.

I know, this sucks.

I know this, because I suck.

Here’s where I’m coming from :

I talk with a lot of passionate, creative peeps. Either through my consulting or meeting them in offline life. And although they come from different nations and backgrounds, they almost always share the same delusion :

They think they are good. Enough.

They think good enough is the way to go, but good enough is…not good enough.
I know people who are good enough – they survive, but they don’t thrive.
They think they create kick-ass work, but they don’t, they create merely gooood work.

But in today’s world, good is another word for loser.

When I was in my early twenties and started out with my creative career, I thought I was
creating kick-ass work as well. Seriously. Friends and family told me : Mars, you’re incredibly talented.
You are going places. Claps here, claps there, claps everywhere.
Needless to say, my ego was blasting off. Up, up to the sky ! Mars, l’ increible. But I wasn’t
making much money, and one day I figured out why.
The day I met an exchange student who showed me his illustration and design work.

#Boom.

My ego flushed down the toilet on speed tap. Flush forward fast. The guy was about 8 years younger, still in his teens, and his style was already smoking mine like a tuna roll sandwich. Meh.
He told me to check out his peers, also teenagers, and that further burned the remnants
of my ego. I was nowhere near their level, despite what friends and family said. My bubble burst.

Plop !

Captain Depression visited me, and he looked like staying for a while. Shit.
Later that day, I slipped into my bed and cried. For hours.
“I’m done for.” is what I mumbled, while pulling the blanket over my head.
Talking about the stormy night of my soul.

Truth is, I hadn’t felt that depressive in years before.
Truth is, it was the turning point of my life.

The next day, I swore : forget about being good. Forget about being good in your perimeter.
If there’s a “foreigner” eating your career brunch, you need to hustle.

I realized how much I actually sucked on a global level. Knowledge of anatomy ? Barely.
Color wheel comprehension ? A funny joke. General composition ? Mediocre at best.
Over design ass-kickery ? Still in the works. Uh.

And that was the day I started practicing and honing my skills like a mad man.
I learned more about my craft in a year than I did in the decade before.

Truth is,
I sucked, and that was the greatest revelation of my life.

Truth is, you are not as good as you think you are. Truth is, you probably suck at some level.

Don’t fret, this the beginning of a grrreat journey.

Here’s how you unsuck yourself

But Mars, why are you smashing my ego ? Why are you kicking me when I’m already on the ground,
screaming for help ?

Because you need it.

Call it the dark night of the soul. Call it rebirth. Whatever.

Let’s move from sucky to skilly, right now.

In fact, skill can be based on the notorious four levels of conscious competence :

Level 1 – Unconscious Incompetence (You Don’t Know that You Don’t Know)
Meaning : You have no clue about your skill, and worse, you don’t even know that you’re clueless. Irghs.

Level 2 – Conscious Incompetence (You Know that You Don’t Know)
You have not much clue about your skill, but you KNOW that you’re almost clueless.

Level 3 – Conscious Competence (You Know that You Know)
You know your subject and are skilled, but you need conscious effort and lots of concentration.

Level 4 – Unconscious Competence (You Don’t Know that You Know – It Just Seems Easy!)
You’re a goddamn maverick with Jedi-skills. It’s a habit now – you don’t even have to think about it. Automation, baby. No effort, it’s easy as 1-2-3.

Reality check :
Most creative people (98% of the ones I meet) are stuck on level 1 – they are clueless, and they don’t even know that they are clueless. They think they’re much better than they actually are, and wonder why they still don’t thrive. That’s a dangerous place to be.

But this is not a make-you-feel-bad post, this is a shatter-your-ego-and-build-it-up-from-the-ground post.

So, here’s the recipe that can inspire you from suckyness to grrrreatness.
Below are the steps that I personally follow to build my own remark-ability.

Warning : it will hurt.

1) Epic Rival check.

Check out the best, and I mean the BEST players in your industry.

    See how much money they make
    See how their style trumps yours by a landslide
    see how skillful they are compared to you

And then feel how it crushes your self-deception.

You have to compare yourself to them till it hurts. Ouchie times three. Like alcohol poured on your wound. The hurt factor matters a lot.
You will suddenly see your shortcomings, and what you have to do to raise up your game.

There’s no growth in comfort. Being frustrated and angered is a great place to build your skill.

2) Ask for a slap in the face.

Forget about asking “what do you think of (include your work here).”
Most people are polite by nature and will give you a BS answer.
Your most useless critics ? Friends and family. I call them bubble-builders.
They bubble you up all cushy and mushy, which clouds your critical self-reflection. Well-intended, but utterly useless and ultimately self-defeating.
Never ask anyone, especially not your close ones, how they like your work. The answer will almost always be a positive one.
Instead, ask for the negative straight away.

What’s not good about it yet ?
What’s wrong with it ?
What could be better ?

Yeah, the answer might shatter your ego like a ceramic bowl, but this is not about soothing in sugar land, this is about securing your success in the future.
Ask for a slap in the face. The harder it hurts, the more you learn.

3) Understand technology, and how it relates to your career.

Back in the day, a painter needed only to know about painting. A writer needed to know about writing. And so on, and on.
Lots of illustrators / designers I meet still think they need a college degree to succeed.
When I tell them about building an online presence (blog + social media) and attracting international clients, they look at me as if I’m trying to sell them dragon eggs from Alpha Centauri.

They don’t see how technology changes the landscape. They don’t see how schooling becomes less and less important, while online presentation and networking become your life essence. Pretty much.

No matter which market you’re in, technology will dramatically change how and IF you make money in your career.

If you’re an author, understand how all-you-can-read-buffet-style subscription models will dramatically change the way you make money.
And prepare.
If you’re an indie artist, understand how 3d printing will dramatically change the way you sell
your artwork. Prepare.
If you’re an online biz owner, understand how social media expert will be a thing of the past.
And prepare.

Technology will change the way you earn money in the future, no matter how untech-related
your current career is. Better to get informed about it.

Places to check out :
wired.com
io9.com
fastcompany.com

4) Bridge till you break your fingers.

Bridging is the process of closing the gap from where you are right now (the suck state)
to the place where you want to be (the success state).
I’ve written a whole post about this :

How “Bridging” Took My Entrepreneur Friend From Poor and Shitty to Grrreat and Successful

It’s a lifelong process that will only end when the grim reaper comes knocking on your door. Knock. Knock.

Conclusion

The minute you finish reading this post, thousands of new competitors will have entered
the global arena. Blood lusty beasts. Embrace your suckyness and move from level 1 to level 2,
still sucking, but at least knowing why.

Only then will you re-awake your hunger for greatness.
Only then will you do what it takes to succeed in the future.

You know what they say :
The truth will set you free,
but first, it will piss you off.

And if you share this post with your friends and peers, you will
make one unofficial step to sucking less already.

  • http://www.ryanhanley.com/ Ryan Hanley

    Mars,

    I got this about 4 weeks ago. I asked to submit a guest post to Schaefer’s blog. He sent me back a critique the likes I hadn’t seen in a long time…

    “Less intellectual more exceptional.”

    Words that have changed my life. That was my slap across the face. I needed to tighten up my game and now I’m in hardcore bridging phase.

    Love the work you do dude.

    All the best,

    Hanley

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Yes, Mark Schaefer is demanding – he pushes you in polite ways to really bring your own experience and awesomeness into the game. Wayyy better than just someone telling you : nice work.

      Because that’s not going to help you.
      I think realizing your own (lack of) skill is the way to go – you’re never good enough, there’s always another level you have to jump to.

    • http://www.craigmcbreen.com/ Craig McBreen

      Mark is great like that … very honest! He’s helped me the same way and constructive criticism never hurt anyone :)

  • http://twitter.com/BillyMurph Billy Murphy

    Great post. I wish the whole blogging community would read this. Every blogger who gets in the blogging game to sell stuff to people should stop immediately(because using your words—they suck). Why sell something if it’s not the best—just refer people to what is the best. Nice job.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Hey Billy,
      it’s an anthem to myself – to stop going for “good enough” and copying what everyone else is doing. In today’s environment, you have to constantly challenge yourself, you’re get sidetracked by hungry beasts that enter the online arena.

  • http://www.craigmcbreen.com/ Craig McBreen

    Hi Mars,

    Love this! I always think I suck, but you know what? You have to kick your ass daily to accomplish something you’ll be proud of. I love the whole “Turning Pro” Steven Pressfield methodology and think his advice is the most practical (and realistic) to date – your post has a similar message. Loved what you wrote at {grow} too!

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Hey Craig, yeah,
      it’s all about going through the “hurt” – because let’s face it – becoming remarkable at your craft is ALL about accepting (and embracing !) discomfort.

      That’s why I think that embracing your suckyness matters – it shows you how much you really need to learn IF you want to thrive in the future as a creative.

  • Keith Marshall

    Today is my birthday. It’s alway nice to take stock on your birthday.
    (I’ll be checking the batteries in the smoke detectors this weekend.)
    Thanks for telling me I suck. I’m at level 2.5 and sometimes 3. But that’s Ok. I used to be a 1 and I’m striving for a 4.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Heh, happy b-day, Keith !
      I hope you have an exciting new year with a plethora of incredible opportunities.
      Whenever I celebrate my birthday, I look ahead and analyze the past.
      Asking myself : how can I make this year better than the last. It works, especially if you’re brutally honest with yourself. I hope it works for you, as well.

      • Keith Marshall

        I like to look ahead and analyze the past too and I am honest with myself, but gentally not brutally.

  • http://twitter.com/rdopping Ralph Dopping

    Friggin McBreen sent me over here. That bastard. Mars, you make good points and Mark Schaefer is certainly a tough cookie. As he should be.

    Everyone sucks at something. How true is that? I suck at a lotta shite but I keep doin’ it. That either makes me courageous or stupid. Dunno.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      That’s the way to go, Ralph, keep doin’ it and never ever never stop.
      Sooner or later, you’ll leave the suckyness behind, never falling victim again to the bubble of self-deception !

  • http://www.greig.cc/ James Greig

    Great article *but* the ending “And if you share this post with your friends and peers, you will make one unofficial step to sucking less already.” put a HUGE dampener on it for me. Sharing is something I will do on my own terms or not at all.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      I understand James, but you can’t please everyone. And heck, you shouldn’t.

      • http://www.greig.cc/ James Greig

        Agreed. I have still bookmarked this page publicly on Kippt, so it is kinda shared :)

  • http://www.byjanet.net/purple Janet Brent

    Thanks for the reality check, Mars. I know I suck. Design is a highly oversaturated field. How do you stand out?? I know I’m a good designer.. but am I a GREAT designer? I’m not sure. I think my route would be finding the right talent and building my creative team, like a true entrepreneur. :P Of course, I always want to get better at my craft.. I don’t think I have a corporate style that would be good for companies, but I wouldn’t want those clients anyway.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Shit, I just saw your comment – now. Well, better late than never. Here’s my answer :

      I personally believe you’re never good enough, not even close. Do you compare yourself with the best out there ? I do, and I know it hurts, but we need the reality check. That’s why you have to increase your skills on a daily level, understand color concepts, composition, and most importantly, create a unique style that people can only attribute to you !

      I think it’s a mistake to cater to everyone – you think you get more clients, but you don’t. You become so broad and average that you’ll turn into a Jack of all trades, or Jane in your case ;)

      Why don’t you focus on a certain style / topic range that you can bring under one umbrella ? You know, something that is pure Janet Brent Panda style. I focus more and more on solely digital, the topic range being technology, marketing / business / social media.

  • http://www.dragonblogger.com/ Justin Germino

    I have really terrible graphic design skills, I have 0 artistic talent, and honestly this applies to PHP coding in WordPress as well, I know I suck, but just passable enough to jury rig crap to make it work.

    Sir Richard Branson said in a seminar recently, start a company, then hire somebody better than you to run it. This motto really makes sense to me more than I have taken a management role in my day job, what you lack in talent yourself you make up for by hiring those who have what you lack to fill in the gaps.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Hey Justin, that’s pretty smart. If you can’t hire them because they’re, you can always team up. There are way too many skills for a single person to master now – if you try to learn them all you end up being a jack-ass of all trades.

      • http://www.dragonblogger.com/ Justin Germino

        Exactly, all the great visionaries spend their time developing ideas, honing them into something, then hiring the best and the experts to turn those visions/dreams into reality. It is much more rare for that 1 person who does the vision and the coding/building to make it himself then reach success that way.