I glanced at my older brother's phone and it looked like he was reading from a large print Reader's Digest. Everything was zoomed in. The app buttons were bigger. His text messages--let's say the normal font size is 12 pt--looked like they were 16 going on 20.
Which was surprising to see, because my brother is the only one in my immediate family who doesn't have some form of glasses or contacts. He has, by all accounts, 20/20 vision. He doesn't have the annual trip to the eye doctor. Doesn't know the smell of optometrist breath, which isn't bad, per se, it's just overwhelmingly neutral as if all eye doctors eat a balanced diet of garlic and Altoids. He doesn't know the feeling of the glaucoma test; sitting in a chair, heart rate pounding as you prepare for the unpreparable, that little shot of air right on the eyeball. Alright, for our next test, head over to that door, look through the peephole, and I'm gonna shoot your eye with a Nerf gun.
But he is three years older and with age comes at least one of three things: lose some hair, gain a few gray hairs, or decrease in vision. Well, he's still got a full head of non-graying hair so an attack on the eyes seemed reasonable. It happens to everyone. I feel like even a 50-year-old former Air Force pilot still has to pull out a pair of glasses at a restaurant, or at least do that thing with the menu where you squint and hold the menu further away from your body.
"Wow, do you have your iPhone set at the 80-year-old display setting?" I asked him like the dirtbag that I am.
"What?" he replied. And it wasn't a defensive 'what', it was more the way San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich replies when a reporter asks him a dumb question.
"Your font size. It's out of hand."
"Not at all," he said, getting ready to dive into some older brother wisdom. "You gotta give your eyes a break. You're looking at a computer all day, why would you continue to beat up on them?"
This idea immediately fascinated me. I reflected on my experience with eyesight. In fifth grade, I got back the damming result that I needed glasses. At 11 or 12-years-old, that diagnosis feels like a death sentence. I have to enter middle school on the nerd path?! Any bully will have one guaranteed "four eyes" bullet in the chamber to use against me.
So I fought against it. I rarely wore my glasses in fifth or sixth grade. By seventh grade my eyes were too bad to continue the resistance. I went full-time glasses. I had the middle school triple threat of glasses, braces, and acne. I grew from 5'2'' to 6'2'', had no body fat to my name, was just a tall, gangly, voice cracking goon. They say seventh and eighth grade are your prime ugly years and boy do I agree. I fell down the ugly tree and hit every branch.
But when I started to wear glasses, it's not as if the lenses healed my eyes. Each year my prescription got a little bit worse. The reason for this is because glasses and contacts are essentially admitting defeat. Your eyeballs' morale is depleted. Ah, what's the point in trying anymore. So each year the eyes try a little bit less and things get worse.
This introduces two Medium Rare alternatives. The first is to do like my brother does. Give your eyes a break when you can. Go with a large font size on your phone. Do the 125 or 150 percent zoom on the computer. Write your emails in size 14 font. When the eyeballs question if they're becoming washed up, you absolutely deny it. What are you talking about? I don't think this font size looks bigger at all. You two are doing great. This keeps the morale up and saves up your eyes' energy for when you need them most. They're not getting better, but they're probably not getting much worse. The weakness is just that: a weakness.
The other approach is to go full out Army bootcamp on your eyes. Go with the smallest font possible. Send out size 8 pt emails and make your co-workers question if you are secretly an alien. Ask for a small-print menu at a restaurant. Take pleasure in reading the fine-print of a legal contract. Never relax. When you watch a movie, there better be subtitles. Get five hours of sleep a night. If your eyes aren't veiny and bloodshot, you're not working hard enough.
This second approach seems ridiculous, but if you stretch this idea beyond eyesight, that is often the recommended approach for how we are told to attack our weaknesses. Turn your weakness into a strength! Whatever you hate doing, whatever scares you, do it over and over again until it becomes something you love.
But why? When did weaknesses have to become strengths? When did we lose the ability to say, "I'm just bad at that one particular thing."
What I want to propose instead looks more like the first approach: give your weaknesses a break.
Let's say you really want to get better at basketball (you're already pretty good), but you also want to become more assertive (you let everyone go first at the 4-way stop and the last time you asked for a raise the conversation ended with you saying, "You know what, I could actually just take a pay cut instead.") And you'd also love to learn the guitar (never played before. Always struggled learning a musical instrument).
The temptation would be to tackle all three. Become "well-rounded." A true renaissance man or woman. But this strategy forgets two key details. First, there's a limited amount of time in a day. How would you work on all three + have time for a job, relationships, and Netflix. Second, it's far more enjoyable to get closer and closer at mastering one thing than it is to be pretty good (or even just not bad) at several disciplines.
For example, think about the difference in enjoyment for a basketball player being able to sprint up and down the court for an hour vs. standing over the trash can after one game. Dunking a basketball vs. barely touching the rim. Being able to hit five-out-of-ten threes vs. going two-for-ten. Take it several steps further, it would seem like someone at the 99th percentile would be pretty close in ability level to someone at the 99.9 percentile, but there's a big difference here too. The 99th percentile guy is playing in Europe making $45k, the 99.9 percentile guy is making $15 million a year in the NBA. That final jump may be the most significant of all.
All of those jumps in ability take a whole lot of work, and it becomes more difficult the higher you climb. Going from trash can guy to sprinting up and down the court takes two or three open gyms a week + some regular time spent running on a treadmill. Going from playing in Europe to playing in the NBA, however, takes 5+ hours a day of practice, conditioning, monitoring your diet and it STILL might never happen. But it's never a waste of time. That person at the 99th percentile can go to any open gym, any work league in America and feel like LeBron James for an hour.
Compare that to working on a weakness. Let's say you practice the guitar once a week and after a month or two can do a slow and sloppy rendition of Smoke on the Water. I'd argue that's only slightly more enjoyable than not being able to play the guitar at all. Now, if you can fully commit to guitar and make that the one thing you're aggressively chasing, and instead of once a week it's two or three hours a day then, similar to the basketball example, it's absolutely going to be worth it. Going from novice to knowing multiple songs to joining a band to performing on stage. That's a significant jump in the enjoyment level.
In Robert Greene's book Mastery he details the process of becoming a master in any field. And one of the most important steps is being completely focused on that area, especially at the beginning.
First, it is essential that you begin with one skill that you can master, and that serves as a foundation for acquiring others. You must avoid at all cost the idea that you can manage learning several skills at a time. You need to develop your powers of concentration, and understand that trying to multitask will be the death of the process. Second, the initial stages of learning a skill invariably involve tedium. Yet rather than avoiding this inevitable tedium, you must accept and embrace it.
Learning the right form for shooting a basketball. Learning the chords on a guitar. Seeing someone fifty yards away and practicing the skill of saying to yourself, "You know what, I don't have to hold this door open." All of these things that seem second nature the further you go into a skill take a ton of time upfront. And, because of the time commitment, t's really hard to spread this focused practice over multiple things.
It's both good and bad news. The good news is we can push past barriers and catch up to people who had more natural talent than us. Greene uses the example of a famous Air Force pilot named Cesar Rodriguez who found there were people ahead of him (called "the golden boys) who were better, more natural, everything seemed to be easier for them to learn. He asked his new instructor to "work him to death." And thus began an intense training program to turn his weaknesses into strengths.
He made Rodriguez repeat the same maneuver ten times more than the golden boys, until he was physically sick. He homed in on all of Rodriguez's flying weaknesses and made him practice on the things he hated the most. His criticisms were brutal. One day, however, as he was flying the T-38, Rodriguez had a strange and wonderful sensation--it seemed like he could feel the plane itself at the edge of his fingertips. This is how it must be for the golden boys, he thought, only for him it had taken nearly ten months of intense training.
So, good news, it's possible through all of the extra practice and intense training to climb higher than we ever imagined. Work our weaknesses to death and turn them into strengths. BUT, the bad news, it's not really possible to do this in more than one area at once. The chapter didn't go on to say Rodriguez also mastered the violin and became the world's leading Call of Duty player during this same time period.
In the end, I think there are really two defined choices with our weaknesses. Either go all-in, attack them, work extra hard to master or hey, give yourself a break, raise the font size, and work on something else instead. There's a lot more enjoyment going from good to great than from bad to meh. With this approach of going all-in or taking it easy, you can truly get more out of each day and master the things that matter most.
One more blog post next Monday before I'm taking a Medium Rare vacation, won't have another post until October 1st. To subscribe via email, enter your email address in the box below. And make sure to check out @fastfoodbookstore on Facebook for weekly jokes and updates about new ebook releases. See ya Monday for another edition of the "Please, take these ideas" series.
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