Over the course of the my life, I have developed many skills. Some of these came through formal instruction. For example, I took piano lessons for close to fifteen years of my life. Other skills came through more informal practice. No one has ever taught me how to enjoy a cup of coffee, but through admirable persistence, I am proud to report that I have mastered this skill. Some of the skills I possess came to me fairly easily, while others sucked tremendous effort out of me before leaving behind the nugget of learning. With this in mind, I want to make the following confession.
I’m not good at throwing hatchets.
A few months ago I took my first journey into the new entertainment craze. For my birthday, I gathered a group of friends, donned my best plaid shirt, and embarked on a facility. As a novice, I entered this enterprise believing that the center premise of the sport was:
Throw Hatchet, Hit Target.
With this assumption, I was pretty confident. I am a pretty decent performer at other games involving the throwing of objects (e.g. cornhole), so while I wasn’t cocky, I felt that I could hold my own.
As it turns out, I was operating on an inaccurate description of the activity. In reality, hatchet throwing is best operationalized as:
Throw Hatchet, Stick Hatchet in Target
As it turns out, this subtle change is difference between success and abject failure. It is the “sticking” point (pun absolutely intended). The likelihood of hitting the target and sticking the hatchet in the target are only weekly correlated.
On that first night, I tried every motion, speed, sound effect that I could, hitting all the meaty parts of the target, but watching my hatchet clunk to the ground at least 8 times out of 10.
This is an important lesson for us as we approach new challenges. While we can, and should, draw on similar past experiences for the skills and confidence they lend us, if our assumption of the challenge — biased by these previous experiences — is inaccurate, we may find ourselves retrieving the results of our efforts from the floor, instead extricating them from the wall.
Last week, I was invited to another opportunity to build this skill as friends gathered to celebrate a birthday. Armed with my corrected assumption, I studied (via Google and YouTube) the various techniques one could use to ensure “stick-age”. I watched the pro world championships. I practiced darts the day off to hone my aiming prowess. I was confident that this time would be better. But…
..I’m still not good at throwing hatchets.
Despite my revised worldview, increased knowledge, and enhanced preparation, I was still bound to futility in my hatchet attempts. As I retrieved failure after failure from the floor, my frustration grew along with my resignation of the above face.
Now, I am faced with a choice. Am I okay being bad at hatchet throwing? Do I value improving this skill? Is there value to me that could be gained by improving this skill? Do I have the means to improve this skill? Would improving this skill affect other areas of my life? Despite how emasculating it can feel, I don’t have to be good at everything, but despite how difficult it may be, some things are worth making the investment to learn.
It is in this space that we all live when faced with a challenge that outpaces our skills. If we decide that we must pursue the challenge, we have to put in place a deliberate plan for improvement (My son supports this idea in relation to hatchet throwing, begging for us to build a target in our backyard). Or, we may decide that the investment required to build that skill does not equate with the benefits. In this situation, I believe I can make peace with my futility — and be prepared for frustration that next time I get invited to a hatchet party.