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Get your advice from the second-best, not the best

Posted in Achievement, Goals, Habits, Posts by

Image by Philo Nordlund

There are some side effects of always blogging about your life and your efforts to improve it. Some good, some bad. For instance, I feel like I’m becoming that guy who is always trying some weird lifehack. I’m not quite to Tim Ferris status yet in terms of bizarre behavior for the sake of improvement, but give me a few years.

On the other hand, people are often nice enough to humor me and ask for advice. A friend recently told someone that I could offer some helpful thoughts on developing self-discipline and habits. Afterward, my wife half-jokingly complained that because she isn’t constantly promoting herself, no one really asks her for similar advice, despite the fact that she’s 10x as disciplined as me.

I think the “10x as disciplined” part was the half where she was joking, but I can’t be sure. Regardless, it got me thinking: do people just ask me for advice because I blog about stuff like this? And should I just refer their questions on to someone like my wife?

After some reflection, I don’t think so. While it’s undeniable that my wife is more disciplined, she paradoxically doesn’t have any advice to share. Alexis doesn’t think about how to be self-disciplined, she just is. She’s one of those people who offer the annoying “just do it” advice, because that’s just how she is.

Meanwhile, while I’m not where she is (yet), I’ve spent the last few years working very hard at improving, and it’s working. I have the data to prove it. I’ve drastically improved a number of areas in my life and I fully expect those trends to continue.

Imagine two athletes. The first has been considered a prodigy since birth, the best in the world, the very pinnacle of their field. They were made for the game and it’s easy to see.

The second is a very skilled amateur, but wasn’t always much good. In fact, they were once downright terrible. But they worked hard and eventually got to the point where they were good. And then they got to the point where they were great. Not as great as the first guy, but still very, very good.

Now, you want to become a great athlete and you can ask either of these guys for advice. You ask the first guy, right?

Most of us would, but I wonder if that’s the wise move.

Yes, the first guy will have good advice. He’ll have info on technique and knowledge about strategy. He’ll say all the right words. He can tell you about the game. He can describe it. But he can’t share with you the heart and soul of earning it. He can’t tell you what it feels like to suck. He can’t tell you about the dark nights of incompetence and wondering if you should just give up. He can’t tell you how to change.

In other words, if you want to be faster or stronger, don’t ask the one who has always been the fastest or the strongest; they were probably born that way.

Ask the one who has improved the most.

In order to be the best in the world at anything, you have to have an incredibly rare combination of determination, genetics, upbringing, and luck. You will probably not be the best in the world. But that’s not really what’s most important in the long run.

The most important thing is that you’re faster and stronger and better than you were yesterday. And the person who can teach you how to do that day-in and day-out for a lifetime isn’t someone who was born great, but someone who became great.

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2 Responses to “Get your advice from the second-best, not the best”

  1. @philipyana says:

    I think it's well known in teaching and coaching circles that people who are the best at X are not necessarily the best people to teach or coach X. For example there are plenty of outstanding coaches in all sports who were not remotely in the top tier of players themselves.

    Partly this is because the people who are outstanding at X may not even have had to deal with the issues that people who don't take to X so naturally have to deal with, partly it is that they may not be able communicate what they know as well as a gifted teacher, partly that teaching/coaching is a skill set in itself, and people who have devoted themselves to excelling at X have generally not had the time or inclination to develop themselves as excellent teachers also.

    So the thing to do is not necessarily find the best or second best, or the person who became great despite not being born great,. It's to find the person who is best at helping others become great.

  2. Anand says:

    “Like” :)

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