No room for noobs

By Artur Odwald

Have you tried doing something new recently? – completely out of your comfort zone? Like joining a gym for the first time. The experience of learning or trying something brand new is a challenge in itself, but it can be fun. Moreover, it can be part of your personal and professional development. The people who are already knowledgeable in that particular area could be a source of great help, but, more often than not, they may be the reason you give up.

Sadly, there are jerks out there.

“You have it easy now. I had to work my hands to the bone to learn. You should praise me for just talking to you.”. Or some such talk. Man, does that grind my gears. Yes, the internet is now a thing. Yes, there are tons of learning materials available. But for fuck’s sake, talking down to a newbie for being a newbie is just low. Everyone starts somewhere. If an expert tries to appear all high and mighty in front of an amateur, they clearly want to be complimented for having endured hardships, but must a lack of obstacles of the old times mean that a new generation is bound to be inferior?

When you join a gym, you will make mistakes. You will probably do at least some of the exercises incorrectly. Your training plan won’t be perfectly optimised. You may not even have the right diet, which is crucial for gaining muscle, or losing weight. The guys who learned a thing or two may look at you with pity. They’ll probably reminisce about the times when there was no internet, or less of it, and sound knowledge was harder to obtain, laughing at your terrible technique or even scolding you, conveniently forgetting that at one point, they were just as bad. You need to be tough on the inside to get tough on the outside.

The resources were scarce before, and it wasn’t easy. Now, the resources are so abundant that just navigating through a sea of information is a skill in itself. A skill that the clever ones can profit off. There are loads of courses online and the knowledge out there is probably available elsewhere for free. So why do people frequently pay for it? To save time perhaps. Everything is within arm’s reach, but going through hundreds of pages of content could take months, serious discipline. You pay someone to filter the information and present it to you in an organized and comprehensive way. Also, you don’t have to be a pro!

Being average sounds like an insult, but why choose nothing instead? If I want to learn a language, maybe communicating and making loads of mistakes is better than not being able to utter a single word. Being average is already an achievement. You can do something, as opposed to not being able to do the thing at all. You can already find a job, or enter an entirely new social circle of people, if your English is reasonably communicative.

It’s nice to dream about a world where the genius is the average. I do love the idealistic approach, and I do think we should strive for improvement. But you can’t go from zero to hero without being average, or even outright terrible at first. Don’t fear mediocrity. It can lead to greatness, but if it doesn’t, you’re still more capable than the guy who can’t do it at all, or lacks the courage to even try.

The Pareto principle fits here perfectly. The 80/20 rule, aka the law of the vital few. It states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. So, a guy who goes for a jog a few times a week (20% effort) will soon see a lot of benefits from running (80%). In order to achieve the remaining 20%, he would have to put in an extra 80% of effort. Fine-tune the effort: Buy better gear, spend more time running, change the diet and other habits, etc. An average, low effort runner is way better than not running at all. He may never run a marathon, or half of one, but it doesn’t mean he won’t be healthier overall.

Back to where we started: The experts who use those neophytes, amateurs, to feed their ego. A confidence boost is one thing, but the notion of “if I’m an expert, then you can’t be one” is another issue. People who look at their field of expertise as a zero-sum game are on a sad and lonely path. How much better would it be if you could find someone you could talk to about your interest, your big dream? That spark of interest should be enough to welcome someone into the community, the brotherhood, the sisterhood. Expecting others to be at a certain level can be harmful. It hurts the overall game. Maybe that’s why making friends gets more difficult with time?

If you look at kids playing together, you’ll see that a good number of them does not care who others are. A stranger is a friend you haven’t made yet. A kid walks up to the other kid and off they go, doing their thing. An adult, on the other hand, is more like a dog carefully sniffing the butt of another adult. Who are they? What do they do? Who do they know? How do I compare to them? By the time your breakthrough of the situation is done, the situation is either no more, or you realise that it’s not worth it. There are so many expectations, so many assumptions being made, and so much judging, that, in the end, we often don’t even bother.

The shame of being inadequate, incompetent, or lesser than others gets worse as we grow older. It is acceptable for a kid to not know something, but how could an adult not know something? Whereas the beginner has lots of beneficial characteristics. A beginner is inquisitive, open-minded, and frequently undertakes new challenges readily. An expert will often try to stick to known situations just because they are easy. It’s nicer to feel confident and capable, but dealing with known issues will not help you grow. What’s more, the routine will soon turn into boredom. That kind of inertia is best fought by undertaking new challenges, however scary they may appear.

Others may try to shame us, but screw them. What’s worse, we may try to shame ourselves. We may actually believe the guys with an inferiority complex and infect ourselves with it. To hell with those guys. You do you. At the beginning you’re supposed to suck, so if you suck, you’re doing just fine.

To end on a positive note, have a look at this great example of a teen-age kid who did not choose the easy path in high school athletics. Gerald Hodges, who was otherwise an impressive young athlete, could not swim. Instead of choosing a sport he already excelled at, he joined the swimming team. The chain is as strong as its weakest link, so by that logic, Gerald must be one hell of a strong chain.

Gerald’s incredible tale can be seen here:

Artur Odwald is Editor-in-chief of Unicorner. He is a student at Społeczna Akademia Nauk.