Because they are the worst kind of lie, the kind we tell ourselves. We like to convince ourselves that hard work doesn't matter, that people like Chuck Norris become skilled, fast, powerful, strong, and fit because of their impossible super powers
We'd like to think that, like Rocky Balboa or the Karate Kid, Chuck Norris went to some mystic guru-like sensei, worked hard for about, oh, 8 weeks or so, and emerged as the Karate Champion of the World and a Universal Badass. But the truth is that Chuck Norris, like anyone who has achieved anything meaningful, worked very hard to get there. He studied, he trained, he fought, he even lost, he learned from his mistakes and went back to fight some more, and to train some more, and to train even more. And eventually, he became very very good.
Unfortunately, I think a lot of us believe that we should instantly be great at something when we first try it. Or if not instantly, we should, in a matter of weeks, begin mastering the skills. Instead, Malcolm Gladwell argues in his (excellent) book Outliers that true mastery takes about 10,000 hours. TEN. THOUSAND. HOURS. Cogitate on that one for awhile. He gives many examples of successful businessmen, athletes, and entrepreneurs that show how each one had a combination of opportunities that allowed them access to those 10,000 hours. Of course it also takes skill. But skill alone is not enough. Even highly skilled people have to work hard to get good.
What does this mean for those of us who are trying to transform ourselves? In a way, I think it can bring a sense of relief and peace. If we release ourselves from the expectation that we'll be awesome overnight, that we'll acquire the necessary skills in an immediate time frame, then we can gift ourselves with the opportunity to simply suck for awhile. We can then take our time, we can allow ourselves to learn and grow and get better in our own way. We can also allow ourselves to not only make mistakes, but to learn from them. Instead of letting a failure derail us from our goals, we can pick ourselves up and carry on. After all, even Chuck Norris failed his first black belt test. It didn't stop him though, did it?
When we turn away from the American "Magic Wand" approach to mastery and instead accept the notion that meaningful change is often slow and incremental, we also avoid what author David Wong calls "Effort Shock". In his excellent essay How the Karate Kid Ruined the Modern World, Wong argues that Effort Shock (similar to Sticker Shock where we realize that the price of something is far higher than anticipated) comes when
We have a vague idea in our head of the "price" of certain accomplishments, how difficult it should be to get a degree, or succeed at a job, or stay in shape, or raise a kid, or build a house. And that vague idea is almost always catastrophically wrong.
So the next time you're prone to be hard on yourself for failing to live up to your (probably unrealistic) expectations about how something should come more easily, remember that meaningful change comes one step at a time. And that if someone is standing in your way, it's quite likely that person is you. Or, as Chuck Norris himself (the Universal Badass himself) says:
You can usually see your way around the blocks that other people put in your path, but the blocks you create yourself, the ones that come from inside your own thinking, seem rooted in the ground and as wide as the horizon. As indeed they are, for you yourself are standing in the way. The way around the block is from the inside.
Learn to think kindly of yourself, to pay yourself the respect you'd pay someone else. Learn to greet yourself the way you'd greet a stranger - politely, open to the possibility that you might be about to make a friend for life, aware that the person standing in front of you could be anyone, could come from anywhere, could be about to accomplish anything. The stranger could be about to make any number of dreams come true. And having greeted the stranger, realize that all those things are equally true of yourself.