Want To Be the Best? First, You Need to Be the Worst

Want To Be the Best? First, You Need to Be the Worst

It’s the most important part of taking on a new challenge.

A challenge like:

  • Building a company

  • Running a marathon

  • Writing a newsletter

No, it’s not all that lame stuff like set a goal, spend 30 minutes per day, find a mentor, blah blah blah.

Okay, fine. That’s excellent, research-based advice.

But before you can even get to the point where that matters, you have to accept one truth that will unlock all future growth and achievement:

You are going to suck.

At first.

When you’re a high achiever, how do you tap into the growth mindset and do new things (especially publicly) where you may not be good?

Plan to suck!

I like to know that I am going to be really bad at something at first.

I expect it.

Which makes it easier to get started!

And once you get started, you start learning. And getting better.

Of course, getting better, often looks like doing badly. But that’s okay! You planned for that.

You know the first few attempts will be WAY harder and you’ll do WAY worse because you planned for that!

It doesn’t derail you. It lets you know the process is working and it will get easier.

The more you plan to suck, the sooner you can get started, the sooner the suck will be over!

One day, in the not so distant future, you realize:

Wow! I’m no longer terrible!
What used to take me 10 days of agony, I can do in 30 minutes.
My armpits aren’t (that) sweaty.
I’m getting pretty good feedback.
I could layer on another goal!

How This Applies To Startups

The idea that you will suck to start (and you should plan around that) is exactly why we recommend:

So much of startups is starting (duh! it’s in the name!) and learning.

Taking action, figuring it out as you go, discarding incorrect assumptions, and being faster than your competitors.

If you’re willing to be embarrassingly bad to start, you will learn more and faster!

What About Preparation?

You may ask: If you know you’re going to suck, why don’t you just prepare better?

First of all, I do!!!! I’m an over-preparer.

But here’s why that doesn’t work:

You don’t know what you’re going to suck at!!!!!!!!

Or to use my least favorite phrase in business (that you will hear 1000 times if your company is being acquired):

You don’t know what you don’t know🧑‍💼🤓🧑‍💼🤓

Or to put it a more positive, less annoying way:

It takes a while to find your strengths and what works for you.

Preparation can help. I recommend preparing (especially for Q&A!). But everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. Or, um, hear real customer feedback, get on stage, or see the faces of investors when they’re sharing their pitch.

So prepare…then get it into the real world asap so the improvement can begin!

Real Life Examples of Being The Worst & Getting Better

#1 Fireside Chat

In my first fireside chat, I was afraid I’d forget the questions.

So I memorized the questions and asked them exactly. Verbatim. No lead in.

As you can imagine, it was rather stiff and formal. 🤖

The next fireside chat I hosted, I was more conversational and fun. It was 10x better (and I didn’t forget any questions)!

#2 This Newsletter!

I took 3 months to start this newsletter.

Researching the best platform, trying to discover my voice, figuring out my brand.

(Sound familiar to any founders who would rather build than sell??? 😁😉)

Once I finally got started, my first posts took FOREVER to write. Like 8 hours for 500 words.

And they weren’t even good!

Over time, I learned:

  • the right amount of jokes (A LOT)

  • my writing works best with numbers, bullets, lists, line breaks, for easy skimming

  • if a post gets too long — make it 2 posts

  • how to add a photo to the thumbnail

  • what a good title looks like (aka get help from people better than me!)

#3 Many More Things

Here are some other things where I’ve been the worst before getting better:

  • First “inspirational” speech (spoiler alert: it was not inspiring…)

  • First Instagram video

  • First panel where I explained (poorly) what we did at Atlanta Ventures

  • First meetings with founders

2 Main Principles of “Planning To Suck”

1. It gets easier.

The first meeting, presentation, call, post, whatever — will take forever to prepare for! And it will be the worst! The second one will take less time but be better! Expect to invest the most time up front and for each effort to get incrementally better.

2. 3 months or 3 attempts.

I like to plan for 3 months or 3 attempts (depending on the type and frequency of the skill/project) of terribleness before I start to “figure something out.”

If I get to one of these milestones and I am still terrible, I do some soul searching.

Do I care enough to keep going? Have I given it a fair effort? Is there a belief or life constraint holding me back?

Share This With Your Team Too!

Adam Blitzer, the COO and co-founder of Pardot, beloved by Pardashians everywhere, used to say:

We’re going to make a lot of mistakes and that’s okay. We’re just going to keep learning.

It was the kindest, most empowering thing to say to young, high performers who had no idea what they were doing but cared a lot and worked hard!

It also created a bias towards action which increased the rate of learning exponentially.

Adam did a great job of talking about his learnings and mistakes publicly to let people know it really was okay:

I had us switch to a new tool and it didn’t work at all. I should have pulled the plug sooner.

My first sales meeting was terrible. I told them not to buy our product!

If you want to support your team and grow quickly, encourage people to try new things and be okay with the mistakes!

What challenge are you tackling? How do you get started on something new? What advice do you have on doing new things or helping your team do new things?