Not More, But Few.

A Renaissance Life it’s not about stuffing your life with skills.

Not more, but few.

More skills don’t automatically equal more opportunities.

But a few skills mastered is a powerful thing. Because not only do you have variety at your beck and call, but the ability to combine your expertise in interesting and unique ways.

The combination of skills is a breeding ground for innovative ideas and creative ways to think and express ourselves.

Of course, it takes time to get to a professional level of quality in any one skill. This is the reason why we won’t reach for too many skills and stretch ourselves too thin, and therefore dilute our time.

Our time is the most valuable thing we can give to anyone or anything.

There’s an occurrence in health where we crave food and reach for the chocolate and sweets, but what our body actually wants is water (but is masked by desires for Little Debbie’s and chips).

I think a similar thing happens to our habits. Out of want, we reach for something new and exciting—a new hobby or skill—but what we need is to focus and progress in our current skills, even if that means digging in and doing the hard work.

At least this is what I do and struggle with.

It’s easier to add new things than to finish old ones. But finishing what we start is 5x more rewarding than the excitement of starting something new.

Remember this next time you are tempted to start yet another project or another hobby before you finish the ones in front of you.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1154

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Creative Barriers (Part 1)

Many things can limit us and distract us from creativity and doing what we dream of doing.

There are barriers at every stage:

  • Before
  • Starting
  • Continuing
  • Finishing
  • After

(There’s also a “Meanwhile…” stage. This is a concurrent stage that happening simultaneously with all the other stages. It’s everything that’s happening in the world and your life in addition to where you’re currently at.)

People handle different stages differently. Some of us can breeze through Starting, but have trouble with Continuing.

Someone, for example, who starts on a lot of great ideas, but never finishes anything because they’ve enthusiastically picked up a new idea, just as quickly as they’ve enthusiastically dropped the last one.

But if we want to be artists and entrepreneurs and musicians and designer—creators then we need to learn how to navigate every stage and learn to solve our current barriers to get where we want to go and create at the highest capability.

Once we do that—the doors are open. Or, more accurately, we discover that the doors were open the whole time but we were able to see it that way yet. Difficultly becomes Challenge. Failure becomes Wisdom. Problems become opportunities.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1123

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Seeing in Slow Motion

“The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”

Stephen McCranie

From the outside looking in, an hour of writing or guitar doesn’t look like much of anything. Sometimes practice doesn’t feel like progress either. 

But it is. Every time you sit down and work on your daily practice, you are accumulating skills.

But unless you are tracking and sharing your progress, it will appear as though nothing has changed because we are experiencing change on a day to day, minute to minute level.

Small things add up. Think of it like sharpening a pencil. A few turns of the sharpener will get you to the point (pun intended), but you only start noticing how much those little shavings of wood start adding up until all that’s left is a little nub of a #2 and an eraser, barely big enough to hold. 

Or maybe it’s more like watching a movie, frame by frame. A movie frame by itself is a picture, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

That’s the nature of daily practice—a tiny piece adds up when you look at the whole.

A day of practice is nothing; A day of practice is everything.

It just might not look or feel like it in the moment. But don’t let that discourage you or prevent you from practicing. Every single practice counts—even the mediocre ones. And soon enough, your progress will be so noticeable it will feel like it came out of thin air.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1092

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Maxing Out Your Creative Expression

“A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”Bruce Lee

One creative goal I’m obsessed with is to have a collective skillset to create any idea. Put another way, the ability to go from idea to reality with minimal to no friction.

Imagine, for a moment, you are a professional musician. A good one too. You know how to play multiple instruments—guitar, piano, drums, cello—you also can sing and create lyrics. And to top it off, you’ve honed your recording, mixing, and mastering skills too.

When you are at this level of creative mastery, then you can go from idea to reality very quickly and at a premium level of quality.

You can take a simple hum you start singing in the shower, to a full song published on Spotify and Apple Music at an astonishing speed.

You can see this kind of creative expression everywhere—entrepreneurship, podcasting, painting, app development…

This ability is accessible to anyone. We just have to put in the time to practice, learn, and hone our creative skills.

We all have ideas, but not all of us take the steps to create them. There are many reasons for this, but the one that stands out to me is friction—just because you have an idea, doesn’t mean you currently have the skills to make it. You could learn how, but that would take time to figure out. And if you’re a self-starter like me, maybe you do figure it out! You have an idea, and you “just in time” learn what you need to make it.

But most people don’t. There’s too much of a gap between their idea and how to make it real. They mentally get in their own way and psych themselves out from trying.

What I’m after is the ability to create any idea. (Very humble, I know.) Part of this goal is fantasy—I can’t learn every skill—but simply by aiming for it, I can become a much more capable artist the longer I stick to it.

I love the idea of having an idea for a painting, and then just painting it. Or have an idea for a business and then doing it—creating a prototype, validating it, spinning up a website, creating a marketing campaign, and then selling it.

Not to say that I’m waiting for perfection in order to create.

Having greater creative expression is an ongoing, iterative process. We don’t just go from version 1.0 artist to version 7.5. We iterate and grow little by little. Daily work. Consistent effort. Until suddenly our creative arsenal starts looking like Batman’s toolbelt.

The goal isn’t to collect skills just for the sake of collecting them, nor to take on 50 jobs at once.

The goal is to be the best josh-dang creative I can be because I love making things and I desire to keep getting better and better at it.

Why? Because it’s fun, it’s inspiring and I can’t not do it.

Plus who doesn’t want to look like Batman?

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1067

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Late Night Ramblings on Learning

“He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

My go-to methods for learning these days are reading books, podcasting, and daily habits. But I’d like to get out of my comfort zone and experiment with other forms of skill acquisition.

There’s nothing wrong with reading (and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon!) Read a few great books on a subject and you’ll be 80% of the way towards competency. But there’s only so much you can pick up from a book. There also needs to be hands-on learning and experimentation.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of jumping from one book to the next without properly considering how to apply and test what you read to your own life. It’s easy because there are so many flipping books!

As for daily habits, I find it a fantastic way to add practices to your life (even if you don’t think you have a lot of time to spare) add a consistent, momentum to practice what you want to master.

But there’s only so many daily habits you can add to your day. If you have a full-time job and you sleep the healthy recommend 8 hours a night and you add in time to eat, you’ve got about roughly 6 hours left in the day. That 6 hours is powerful and can add up over time, but there’s only so many times you can slice that 6 hours down. So after maxing out your daily habits, then what?

What are some additional alternatives to learning?

How can we increase our ability and capacity to learn?

How did renaissance humans—polymaths/universal minds—from history become so exceptional in multiple skills?

These are a few of the questions I’ve been pondering.

I want to experiment. Turn over every rock and see what others find most effective and see if they work for me too. Weekend challenges. Bootcamps. Thirty-day challenges.

Effective is the word. I’m not necessary after learning more faster for speed’s sake, or quantity just to have more skills—I’m after potency.

I want to unlock the doors to wisdom. This sounds dramatic, but it’s true. What makes someone wise? How can we make better decisions in the moment? How can we live a life true to ourselves? How can we stop holding ourselves back with fear and uncertainty?

We’ll have to figure that out ourselves.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1048

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UnLearning

“If your mind is empty, it is ready for anything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Shunryu Suzuki

Half the battle with learning is not getting in your own way. It’s often not what we don’t know, but what we think we know that’s holding us back.

A part of becoming skillful at something is to be continuously working on your knowledge base and re-approaching the fundamentals.

Mastery in your craft is as much about relearning (reinforcing) the fundamentals and unlearning bad (or outdated) habits than learning new things.

“It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Mark Twain

In the beginning, learning the fundamentals can be boring (especially when it’s not paired with fun). Take learning the piano, for example. Practicing scales. Learning music notation. Chords. Working the muscle memory in your hands. Practicing playing notes with the left and right hand simultaneously. All of this is great and will enhance your abilities to play anything, but it is also tedious hard work. When you are just starting out, it’s better to take a stab at learning a few songs you love, or mess around and make your own songs first. Once you have a couple of wins, go back to and learn the fundamentals. I love scales now. I don’t find them boring at all, because I know that getting better at them will increase my ability to play across the board.

When we re-approach the fundamentals, we are coming from a more experienced mind. Things we couldn’t see at first becomes more clear each time we look at things from a fresh perspective. We couldn’t see, not because we were bad or dumb, but because we are inexperienced and didn’t know what to look at.

Things can become outdated quickly. Every year (more like every time we turn around) some new piece of knowledge, technology, or idea comes out and changes how the world works.

The problem is we can easily dismiss new knowledge for things we already know. This can work, for a little while anyway. But if we hold on to outdated or false information we eventually become stale. Alternatively, we can adopt a “strong convictions loosely held” mindset. I learned this idea from one of my favorite podcasts, The Drive, with Petter Attia. Strong “Convictions Loosely Held” roughly means holding on to your knowledge, values, and what you believe to be true, but being open to change and always testing your assumptions about what you think you know to be true and accurate.

Needing to relearn or unlearn things doesn’t mean we’ve wasted our time, or that what we know is irrelevant. Everything we learn builds on something that came before. We do need to stay up to date as much as we can (especially if your skills are in a fast-growing environment, like technology or medicine). This can be overwhelming (because of the firehose of information) but trying to learn everything at once is not an effective way to be skilled. One small thing at a time. One small actionable lesson adding to the next.

As long as we are willing to be life-long learners and continuously try to improve ourselves, then we are in the right mind space.

The only ones who become irrelevant are the ones who refuse to let go of bad habits and stop learning.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1047

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Practice What You Want To Be Good At

“If you really want to be world class – to be the best you can be – it comes down to preparation and practice.”

Robin S. Sharma

After 3+ years of writing a blog each day, I can officially say that my writing has improved. Am I the best writer in the world? Heeeeeeeell Nah. But I’m better than I was 3 years ago. I’ve also gotten better at knowing what’s good work versus bad. Reading helps, surround yourself with great prose and eventually you’ll absorb some of the magic.

What’s eye-opening is what consistent practice can give you. I have a long way to go before I can earn the title of “pretty great writer” but that’s part of the journey. Not to say that improvement is inevitable on its own. We have to work and challenge ourselves every day in order to discover mastery.

As long as we keep consistently practicing, then it’s inevitable that our skills will improve.

If something is important to you, be it a skill or something that brings you joy (like hiking or listening to music or staying connected with friends) then you need to make it into a practice. What your practice will look like is up to you. It doesn’t have to be daily. It just needs to be integrated into your life.

The same goes for things we want to change.

For example, there’s something I’ve noticed about myself that I’m not happy about—

I suck at talking about myself and articulating my ideas.

I know to get my ideas across with words on paper or a screen, but when it comes to words flopping out of my mouth, I’m a joke. Not always. But a noticeable amount. I’d like to blame it on being tired or stressed, but those are just excuses.

The reason for this is pretty obvious:

I’m not practicing speaking. I’m not practicing communicating.

We only get better at what we practice.

It’s a simple idea, but one that’s easily overlooked.

I don’t expect my golf swing to improve by working on my dance moves. Why should I expect otherwise with writing and talking?

Writing is to talking as learning the piano is to learning drums. They’re in the same category of skills, but they have their own unique sub-skills.

Writing has improved my thinking, but it hasn’t improved my articulation.

The only thing that can do that is practice.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1036

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Hands-on Experience

“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.”

Paulo Coelho

For the last eight weeks, My sister Hannah and I have been driving down to Atlanta to take a metalsmithing class. I’ve always enjoyed the tactile and clever nature of making things with my hands.

However, besides playing music, I’ve spent the last several years mostly creating in the digital world, so it’s been nice to learn a new skill that requires a lot of physical dexterity. I’m still a baby metalsmith, but even so, it’s been fun so far, and I’ve learned quite a lot.

Learning something new can be intimidating—until you get your hands on it. It’s the period before you begin—before you’ve experienced what it’s like—that is usually the scariest.

Professionals always make it look easy, but they were beginners once too. The path to mastery may never have an ending, but it always has a beginning.

Whenever you feel intimidated by something, it’s better to jump right in and discover things for yourself. It’s the classic FDR phrase he spoke at his first inauguration, “the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself.”

This potentially applies to all experiences, not just learning a new skill.

It’s better to be stung by laughter and people calling you are a fool than to fearfully say nothing or do nothing and think yourself a fool.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1026

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Find Out For Yourself

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.”

Leonardo da Vinci

One of the best ways to learn is to teach yourself. While having a personal coach or an online course can accelerate learning, it’s hard to beat hands-on experiences.

(Not that these are mutually exclusive—stacking experience on top of mentorship is a fantastic way to learn if you have the opportunity to do so.)

One pattern I’ve noticed (in myself and in others) is how easy it is to watch someone do something, like woodworking, programming, or dancing, for example, or read a great book on a particular skill, but not actually practice the skill yourself. It’s like second-hand learning. We watch a YouTube video of someone making music or handmade pasta, but we never actually get around to doing it ourselves—even though we want too! We’re already on to the next video, next course, or next book.

Lately, I’ve been trying to avoiding doing it, but in the past, I’ve gone through many books back to back without actually testing and applying them in my own life. What’s the point of reading a business book, for example, if you aren’t going to use it or at least try parts of it out? So we can talk big and be more informed? As if.

Better to not read, then read not apply.

Finding things out for yourself is part of the joy that comes from learning new things. Without experience, you lose some of the passion and drive that comes with learning. It’s the classic phrase “Use it or lose it”. Without visceral experience, our new information isn’t all that important to our brains, and will quickly fade out of our noggin’s, replaced by newer and more exciting information.

All that being said, get dirty. Practice what you learn. Test things out yourself. Cut out some paper. Practice some scales. Make it your own.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #981

Recommended Reads:

Hell Yeah or No

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All I Know is that I Know Nothing

“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

Socrates

The realization that you don’t know much as you think you do is a humbling and important experience.

There’s a great line by Richard Williams, Director of Animation for Who Framed Roger Rabbit that encapsulates this feeling perfectly. He was finishing up his first animated film, The Little Island, and around that time Disney’s Bambi came out in theaters. “… I saw Bambi again and almost crawled out of the theatre on my hands and knees. ‘How did they ever do that?’ I’d learned just enough to realize that I really didn’t know anything!”

You have to be a little naive and arrogant in the beginning when you are just starting out on a new venture (be it a business, project, prototyping an idea, learning a new skill, etc). Otherwise, you’ll know too much to start and overwhelm yourself.

Knowing what you know now, would you have started if you knew how hard it would be to get where you are?

You have to be naive and inexperienced enough to try new things.

Zen Buddhists describe this is having a beginner’s mind. A beginner’s mind is open and ready to learn.

Eventually, you learn a thing or two about your craft. You start making things, designing things, selling things, and get good enough to move things forward. Product sales role in. Your design clients like your work. Your art gets praise. Your song gets applause.

But then you see a professional at work. You see someone who does what you do, but a hundred times better. Heck, you didn’t even realize your guitar could do that. For example, take one look at some of the designs on Dribbble and you’ll realize your designs are garbage designs. “Are they using the same app I’m using?? How do they even make colors and shapes look like that??” The same is true for any skill, venture, or activity. And you realize that—

There’s a lot of incredible creatives and entrepreneurs out there.

It’s painful when you realize you aren’t as good as you want to be.

(It’s also painful when you see someone doing things worse than you are, but they are getting all the praise and attention—Topic for another day.)

But this is a great place to be in. This is another one of those pesky turning points that separate those that succeed and fail. You could stop. You could let someone’s brilliant work make you feel down about yourself and lead you to quit. Or—

You can let it lift you up and inspire you to do better.

Knowing that there’s a lot you don’t know is a great mindset to be in. You’ll learn must faster and more effectively. Humility leads to growth. Once you get past the initial ego-sting of realizing you aren’t the best, you can use the brilliance of others as an experience to seek out advice and to get better.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #913

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