Startup Advice

Why Alan Jones keeps running — and you too should do things you suck at

Alan Jones /

doing things you're bad at

Alan Jones on the start line.

Yesterday I ran a 12km fun run, and hated all but the first five minutes of running. Hated it deeply, intensely and passionately. I was slow, it hurt and the start and the finish were the only good moments in the whole 90 minutes it took me.

Yet I didn’t stop. I’m bad at running and spending time doing things we’re bad at is kind of the point of, well, life.

I don’t even have to do anything I’m bad at. I’m a middle-aged, white, Australian male turning 55 in a few months, which means I have the luxury of never having to do anything I’m bad at. I have all the privileges (conscious and unconscious). When I knock, almost all the doors will open for me. I can be measurably worse than a woman, a younger person or a person of colour, and I will still get paid more and thanked more for my time.

I’ve spent a lot of money and time trying to become a better runner. If there’s a pair of shoes or clothing, a watch or an app, I’ve owned it. If there’s a training method or dietary regime, I’ve tried it. In the end, after four decades of running, I’ve started slow, with a plan to make gradual progress towards going faster, and have instead remained slow.

In yesterday’s fun run, my pace averaged 7.19 minutes/km. A year earlier, I ran 8.11km at an average pace of 7.11min/km. A year before that, and a year before that, the speed remains the same, and the voice in my head remains the same. It says: ‘Why don’t you stop trying to run and just walk?’

It says: ‘You’re a great walker. You’ve trekked for two weeks above 4,000m in the Himalayas several times! You’ve walked 100km non-stop on eight previous occasions in the Oxfam Trailwalker Sydney! You did great because you’re a really good walker! But you suck at running! Why don’t you just stop?’

It says: ‘You don’t have the physique of a Kenyan! You don’t even have the physique of a middle-of-the-pack fun runner! You’re nearly two metres tall and weigh between 95-100kg! You have belly! You’re old! Why don’t you just stop?’

It even says: ‘You just got passed by an eight-year-old and a person (it’s not polite to ask) who looks at least 75 years old. They were going really slowly, but not as slow as you, and they looked fresher than you feel. Why don’t you just stop?’

If you want to learn how to play guitar, to paint, to raise capital for your startup, to sell your product or service to customers, to lead a growing team, or to pitch on stage, it goes like this: suck, repeat, suck, repeat, suck, repeat.

And after a very long time in which you will be stuck sucking at something, you will begin to slowly improve. And if you don’t take the advice of the little voice in your head and persist with what you suck at, maybe one day you have a chance of being great at it.

All the benefits of life accrue to those who learn to do the hard things they suck at. I can play guitar, I can paint, I can raise capital, I can sell, I can pitch and I can lead a growing team. But I still suck at running.

So I continue to run because I suck at it. To remind myself of how it feels to persist with something when you suck at it. Because next time I want to learn how to do something hard, I will need to persist even when I suck at it.

Think about how many hours each week you spend learning to do something you suck at. Are you getting enough practice at sucking?

Because life will eventually challenge you to learn something hard that you will suck at. Will you pass on the opportunity and say ‘oh, I’m never going to be any good at that’ or will you decide to persist?

It needs repeating: all the benefits of life accrue to those who learn to do the hard things they suck at.

This article was first published on Medium and has been republished with permission.

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Alan Jones

Alan Jones is general partner of VC fund M8 Ventures, and an entrepreneur-in-residence with some of Australia’s best-known startup accelerators.

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