How Long Are You Willing To Suck?

The Exorcist Stairs

“Put yourself out there and give yourself permission to suck. That’s not to say you should try to suck, but you have to give yourself permission to allow for the possibility of sucking. Without sucking, you’re never going to find your boundaries, and you’ll never push through those boundaries. That’s all it is.” — Michael Ian Black

 
You aren’t going to like this blog post. I can tell you that already. I think the message in here is ultimately uplifting, but I’m guessing you’re not going to see it that way.

Here goes anyway:

If you want to do anything good in this world, you are going to have to suck at it for a very long time.

If you want to be a great stand-up comic, you’re going to have to get on stage a lot and bomb. If you want to be a great guitarist, you are going to have to spend a long time struggling with basic chords. If you want to be a great writer or a great businessman or a great athlete, you’re going to have to deal with one simple truth:

Before you can get any good, you have to suck. Unless you’re a born genius, this is just how it works.

First you start. Then you struggle. Then you struggle some more.

And then, maybe waaaaaaay down the road, if you’re able to accept the sucking and push through, you might get to a point where you actually get kinda good.

And then you’re going to suck some more, and some more.

And some more.

And then maybe, somewhere even further down the road: Success! Breakthroughs! Money! (1)

I promise you that if you have the right ingredients in place — passion, hustle, skills, time and a strong tribe — hard work will lead you somewhere great.

But first, you’re going to go through a lot of this:

That very scene has happened to anyone who’s tried to do anything great. Doubt happens. Fear happens. Struggle happens.

To all of us.

I just got finished with “American on Purpose,” Craig Ferguson’s autobiography. Craig’s a guy who’s made it — he has his own TV talk show, and he’s done stand-up for the President of the United States. He’s doing alright for himself.

But when you read his autobiography, the first 70 percent of the book is all about how much things sucked for him in the first 15 years of his career. He joined bands, and they sucked. He started in stand-up with a character called Bing Hitler — Bing Freaking Hitler! — and you can imagine how much that sucked at the start. He had audience members actually fight him on stage during his stand-up routine. That’s how much they hated him when he started.

For a two week stretch in Edinburgh, he slept in phone booths at the train station. He sucked so much on stage, he couldn’t afford a hotel room on the road.

He kept going. He got some good breaks. He caught a lot of bad ones. He just kept pushing on.

Today, after a lot of sucking, he has his own TV show — and even when he started that, critics told him that he’d suck at it.

Face it: Doing great work isn’t easy. It takes time. It takes persistence. It takes stubbornness.

But maybe above all, it takes a certain faith in the journey, and it takes an ability to bounce back from many, many tiny failures.

Promise yourself that you’ll keep going. Don’t let the first or the 50th or the 500th failure stop you. The longer you’re willing to suck, the wider the window you give yourself to do something great.

Greatness is out there for all of us — as long as we keep on pushing through.

Those photos of the stairs from ‘The Exorcist’ were taken by Matthew Straubmuller.

  1. I can’t guarantee that last part, actually. Sorry.