The fool comes before the master

Throughout much of my working life, I have had an issue with perfectionism. I wouldn’t take action on things that I really wanted to do until I was sure I could do it perfectly. Of course, this left many things undone. It left many more things being done frantically to meet tight deadlines as I had wasted too much time before starting. It is only in recent years that I have come to accept why I have been using perfectionism as a block; I have been afraid of getting things wrong and looking like a fool. But as Jordan Peterson puts it, the fool comes before the master. You must be prepared to look foolish before you can master anything.

During my younger years, I was very good at school. I don’t mean well-behaved as I wasn’t. I mean in terms of academic performance. I really didn’t have to try too hard to get very good results. I came to pride myself on my intelligence and it became part of my identity. There is nothing wrong with believing yourself to be intelligent unless you become attached to that belief.

I did become attached to that belief. So much so that I feared that if I got something wrong I could no longer consider myself to be intelligent. That is not a healthy view to have. So, over time, I would keep procrastinating and putting things off until either I was confident I could do it perfectly or, I was forced into action by an impending deadline.

Understanding the fool comes before the master

We often talk about how skillful people are naturals at what they do. But with very few exceptions, that isn’t true. In fact, we do these people a disservice. It’s not that they are 'a natural'; it is that they have worked so hard and persistently that they now make their skill look natural. Think of your heroes, whatever field they may be in, and you should realise that when they first started doing what you admire them for, they will have been pretty average or, worse. I know that because nobody is very good at something the first few times they try it. Skill needs to be practiced, honed, and developed. It takes time.

You can be sure that Mozart won’t have been brilliant the first time he played piano. He may even have looked like a right fool. Except, his teacher wouldn’t have expected him to be great so it was no big deal. If you were teaching a child a new skill, you wouldn’t expect them to be great straight away. You would encourage them not to be disheartened or shocked if they looked a little bit foolish. You would explain to them that everybody starts out getting things wrong but with practice and committed effort they will improve. When dealing with others, you know that the fool comes before the master but do you remember that when you are trying something new?

If you are not prepared to risk being the fool, you will never become the master. Perhaps it is because true humility is required before you can succeed at anything and nothing breeds humility like making a fool of yourself.

Embrace being the fool and succeed

When I was creating my first website, my friend Jamie was going to do the work for me. He became very busy in his job and things were getting delayed so I talked to him and he encouraged me to try to do it myself and see how I get on. I was petrified by the idea. But then he told me something which changed my view. He told me that if I got anything wrong, I could simply edit it or, delete the page or site, and start again. This set my mind at ease and I stopped worrying about being a fool. I realised that looking foolish was an important first step on the path to mastery. Ever since I have created my own websites.

What Jamie said set my mind at ease because it reminded me that nothing, either good or bad, is permanent. We get deterred by the thought of a negative outcome because we think that it will be with us forever. But no matter what outcome we get, we can learn from it and move on. We can learn from the present moment and create the next present moment in a manner that is more preferable to us. Whenever I remind myself that the outcome I achieve will not be permanent, I find it much easier to take action. Bad results are not so frightening when you realise the outcome is only temporary.

Mastery takes time to achieve but with each step you take, you become less of a fool and more of a master. The fool comes before the master; it is a fact of life. Accept it, embrace it, and start taking action on your goals.

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Before you can achieve great goals and change, you must set effective goals which challenge and inspire you to take the consistent action.


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