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Here are the only 3 things you MUST do to become great at anything

A friend told me, “Derek, I have to apologize.”

I said, “Why?”

“Well, I always thought things came easy for you. And I didn’t think you worked that hard.”

I laughed…

Nothing comes easy. And if it’s worth having, you’ll have to wade through a moat filled with alligators, garbage and feces to get it.

I’ll explain…

People often think I’m a “natural” at speaking and at “being on video.”


That couldn’t be further from the truth.

You see, I became great at speaking and being on video because I wanted to become great at it.

I’d buy educational material to help me get better… including online courses, books, and workshops.

I’d practice regularly… including filming the same video over and over and over again until I got it right.

And most important: I gave myself permission to be bad because I knew if I kept at it eventually I’d get good.

To prove it, here’s a video of my first ever speaking engagement at an industry conference.

I did this BEFORE I launched Social Triggers. I did this BEFORE I launched a web tv show. I did this BEFORE I became the guy you know today.

I. was. horrible.

I’m monotonous. I’m boring. I have verbal tics. My neck is super red. And I just look uncomfortable.

Now compare that to a speaking engagement I did just a few months later at the same conference.

Notice how I came out from behind the podium? And how I’m a little more comfortable speaking? I’m cracking jokes. I’m a little more animated.

There was a drastic improvement in a very short amount of time… just a few months… but there was still work to do.

A few years later, I now look like a natural.

Maybe you’ve seen my newer YouTube videos… or maybe you’ve seen me at an event… but I’m pretty good.

I’m emphatic. I talk with my hands. I raise my voice. I lower my voice. I pause. I do everything a good speaker should do… and it shows.

But getting there wasn’t easy.

I remember calling a friend before a speaking engagement and rehearsing my opening to my speech 57 times.

I also remember filming the SAME video over and over and over again until I got it right.

And I kept working at it.

The best part?

I’ve done this in many areas of my life.

I used to be awkward in social situations… and now I can walk into any room and own it.

I used to be bad at public speaking… and now I command $20,000 for a keynote.

I used to be a bad writer… and now my writing is great.

And the list goes on.

The secret to greatness? It’s easier than you think…

I’d buy educational material. I’d practice. And most important, I’d give myself permission to be bad.


No matter what you’re trying to accomplish: invest in yourself, practice regularly, and give yourself permission to be bad.

And you’ll thank me later.

Now what I’d love to hear from you is this:

– What’s one thing you used to be bad at that you’re now GREAT at?

– What did you do to go from “bad” to “great?”

Leave a comment right here and be as specific as possible.

This is your chance to brag. So I want to hear all sorts of things!

Spread the love!

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44 comments Leave a comment
Jae "Jaebird" Burnham

I used to be really bad at networking.

I put awkward into awkward. I was the poster boy for sitting alone in the corner.


I am the guy that everyone knows. People know who I am in my community. I have no problem and introducing myself and getting that business card…

…then of course following up.

It wasn’t always as easy as it was today. It took work as you explained above. But it has been worth both professionally and personally.

Thanks for the great article.




Hello Derek and hello everyone! So here’s my story…
Few years back, I used to be the most shy guy in the class. But now I am the most popular guy in the school. All I did was went on meeting new people. And, what I think is, meeting new people transform ed me from an introvert to an extrovert.


i used to be bad at origami, now im professional at it, i teach and give specialized origami courses for children and adults, and i have my own designs, if you ask me before 5 years, i will tell that this is impossible to happen.
the secret: i practice and enjoy origami a lot, every day since 4 years im practicing it “between 7-10 hours”
until now im practising, until now im enjoying


You want to know how to go from the big pool of people who start at the beginning of the race track, and how do you end up at the finish line


I just took the assessment and this is badass! Thanks for taking the time to make these ebooks and the survey. I am super stoked about my product launch happening on 4/7/2016, pre-launch #1 of many and I would love to send you access to the course. It is going to be called Local Authority Monetization Secrets. We have set three goals for our launch:

– Minimum Sales: 50 units
– Target Sales: 150 units
– Outrageous Sales: 400 units

I plan to hit our first target sales goal before June 30th! #YouRock Brotha

Juanita Dailey

Awesome advice… “invest in yourself, practice regularly, and give yourself permission to be bad”.

So to your question…
– What’s one thing you used to be bad at that you’re now GREAT at?
– What did you do to go from “bad” to “great?”

The one thing I use to be really bad at was speaking in front of a group of people. To be honest, I’m out of practice now because I haven’t done it in a while. However, there was a time when I worked in an office that required it. Speaking in front of a group of people for an introvert can be very difficult. However, for me… whenever I saw something difficult I needed to do I always took the approach to tackle it head on. So I did just that, I helped form a Toastmasters club right there in the office and even held the VP title.

This of course forced me to put forth my best efforts to be the best speaker I could be. In order to go from bad to great, I did a lot of practicing and found the one thing that would help me to deliver a good speech. For me it was humor at the very beginning of my speech. If I could get them to laugh, that would ease the tension. And really, I found I could even mess up a little in my speech and it didn’t matter. LOL! Maybe because they were still stuck on the joke. Anyway, practice was definitely the key. Though I’m out of practice right now because haven’t done it for a while, I know I could get back to that level because I already know what it takes.

Nick Julia

Love it….
Sometimes it’s hard to let yourself be bad.
Especially after you’re already good at something, related or not.

The learning curve for anything new can be harsh.
Thanks for the reminder, that being bad first is ok.


It’s cool man but I am not sure I get the give yourself permission to be bad thing. Do you mean…”okay I am not good at this…but that is okay…” and then just practice relentlessly and you will grow stronger at that skill?

I just want to make sure I get what your saying on that one man because I know personally I am guilty of overconfidence and overestimating what I can and will do. Then I tend to fall short of my expectations.

Just wondering if I could find some advice in this one.

Thanks bro.



    What I am getting from the “give yourself permission to be bad” part is that you shouldn’t not do something because you think you are bad at it. Fear of failure or embarrassment prevent a lot of people from doing things they want to do. If you accept the fact that you are going to suck the first few times you do something, you allow yourself to get experience and get better at it.

    In your case falling short is an opportunity to get better the next time you do something, or learning what you are capable of delivering so you don’t oversell yourself.

    Just my thoughts. Feel free to correct me if off here.


I was hired as a social media consultant at a digital advertising firm after working as a writer in Malaysia. I was not even tech savvy at that time. I had no idea about social advertising or coming up with actionable insights for big brands from merely understanding the behaviour and conversations of their customers online. I’m not great at what I do now but I do pretty well. Enough mistakes and experience eventually led me to learn how to navigate the digital media advertising scene better. It’s has been 5 years. I still have a lot of room to grow but yay for the many milestones I have hit since my first day at work.


Completely agree with this! I have a horrible fear of public speaking. In fact for years I was terrible. After giving myself permission to be bad at it – I have improved exponentially. It’s never easy to do something that makes you uncomfortable but I think it’s the only way to ultimately succeed.

Tor Refsland

Great article, Derek.

I used to be bad at writing. I had low self-esteem and I felt so vulnerable.

Then I hired a coach and applied massive action.

The results?

After blogging for 14 months with my first blog, I have managed to get featured on 158 blogs and get 3900+ email subscribers.

Thanks for always sharing the good stuff, Derek.

Stay awesome,


Irenka *

Singing and playing music in public. A one-woman show.
I’m still not at my best but I’m far from where I started.
I would blank out in front of a crowd of… 2 people, I couldn’t remember the words to a single song I was so paralyzed.

What I did ?
I recognized the issue : it was my nerves, not my ability to sing or play. I identified the signs (accelerated breathing, shaking hands, nervous tics) and worked on controlling my body (deep slow breathing, calming mechanisms).
I worked on my Self-Talk : positive, encouraging, “if others can do it, you can do it, you are no better nor worse, you are a beautiful piece of art just like anyone else, show them, they are here to love you”, I worked on controlling my mind.

And just like you said, Derek, I allowed myself to be bad. I went out to “safe environments” like open mics to practice among other “bad performers” lol. Hell, I went out in the park at 1am to play my guitar in an empty amphitheater playing to a crowd of 326 ghosts.
And I challenged myself a step further, one step after the other, booking shows and presenting myself as a professional entertainer, pushing my boundaries to deliver.

Once I got my nerves more or less tamed. I observed and took notes on other pro entertainers, how are they handling the crowd, what are they saying, how are they commanding attention, how are they making me feel like part of their show.

I play now over 3-hour shows by myself and can hold my own, cracking jokes, letting my personality shine more and more.
It feels good to free yourself to be able to GIVE, the best you can.


It took me years to become a solid SEO practitioner but I sweated it out over trial and error plus many late nights. I love the ‘knowledge chase’ more than anything. Next up is golf.

Jennifer Alvarado

Well said Derek that nothing in the world is very easy to become great in any specific thing.I much liked your strategies for becoming a wonderful entrepreneur..Thanks for sharing essential tactics for achieving success in any kind of business…..

James Hughes

I used to be terrible at speaking on the phone, quite nervous.

But now that is what I’m best at, specifically closing clients.

I speak with energy, passion and confidence and absolutely kill it inspiring the person on he phone and feeing good about myself after the call.

This is through practice, practice, practice.

Keep at it and don’t be afraid to fail.

James Hughes

Deepak Gera

Hi Derek, It’s really great. I am in IT field and after some experience, It’s becomes nature of job to communicate with clients regularly, give presentations, debates, convincing etc. Initially I was very bad in communication & providing on-spot explanation of unexpected scenarios.

And the key is only one i.e. practice. I thought to face this fear as much as I can. I simply thought what could be worst with me, may be loosing job. But doing job without facing this challenge is still not worth. This thought made me come in front and fight with my comfort zone. And now I feel little comfortable in all those things.

I am not perfect in communication now but I can convey what I want to.

Niklas Goeke


I’m very much still learning how to write great content, but after over 300,000 words last year, and well on track to 500k this year, I think I’ve gotten a lot better.

I practice every day, and am not ashamed to fail or write something bad.

Hope to publish a killer book one day 🙂


Hi man
You said there’s gonna be 3 main things that’ll make me gr8 at anything
And yet I don’t see any numbered instructions .
The tip to allow myself to be bad, in order to be good at last sounds interesting and I am going to give it a shot.
I guess there is one more. Practice. And even taking every simple thing I wanna be great at and try it on in daily situations.

Still. Its sums up to 2 main tips.
I’d love to hear about the third one u mentioned.

Other than that – I love to read your stuff and this article was really fun to read.

Have a good day man (:


    I’d buy educational material to help me get better… including online courses, books, and workshops.

    I’d practice regularly… including filming the same video over and over and over again until I got it right.

    And most important: I gave myself permission to be bad because I knew if I kept at it eventually I’d get good.


    I was curious and checked the text out again for the 3 tips. Here are they:
    You see, I became great at speaking and being on video because I wanted to become great at it.

    I’d buy educational material to help me get better… including online courses, books, and workshops.

    I’d practice regularly… including filming the same video over and over and over again until I got it right.

    And most important: I gave myself permission to be bad because I knew if I kept at it eventually I’d get good.


      well ty dude for clearin this out for me
      enjoy your day (:

Ginger Vertican

I had no idea how to create a Ecourse so that I could offer it as a product on my website.

I also had no idea how to make a website.

I took marie forLeo’s Rich happy & hot Bschool and learned how to build a WordPress blog, and then

I bought your zippy courses.

It’s taken me two years ( i’m a full-time teacher with two jobs and had zero confidence / education on how to make my own business ) but …

I finally bought and built my own word press site and

made my first two courses. I haven’t offered them for sale yet but it’s a huge leap from where I was two years ago.

The thing I Do feel confident about now is I know how to build a course! I built a bunch for my ESL students and offered them for free at my school.

So it’s built my confidence that I can offer them for profit. Derek- Your constant SUPER HELPFUL content continues to help me not give up on myself and just go ahead and evolve with what I want to offer.

That it doesn’t have to be perfect. And it doesn’t have to be the thing I originally intended it to be. I’m allowed to reshape it.

Also, it doesn’t have to be awesome- it just has to be finished. I can improve as I go.

That shift in mindset alone is a movement from bad to great 🙂 thanks.

Dina Burke

My key to success is I do things that terrify me. Regularly. I don’t mean anything physically or mentally unsafe, but just things that make me sweat nails. Like at 26 in the middle of a 300 people luncheon is a city where I knew no one, when it was asked if anyone had brought a guest, I stood up, alone, and introduced myself. And quickly offered my services as an Art Director if anyone was interested. I did get a job from that. It was spontaneous combustion fueled by the fact I needed to eat and pay rent. I still don’t exactly know how or why I do these things because I am a shy person, all I know is I force myself to do whatever will make me squirm the most and it has served me well. I also allow myself failures and to try new things and to not give a damn about what others think. Education is key and surrounding yourself with smarter people. Anything that is worth knowing is worth learning. I am proudest of the accomplishments that are furthest away from my comfort zone: Making my website and being able to at least know what code is, and not being afraid of technical stuff is an example of a huge leap for me as well as showing and earning titles on pure bred dogs and competing in the ring with the country’s top handlers. I just kept trying and practicing for years, and now have many champions. And a cool website 😉


Hi Derek, only just found your site after seeing a post on Facebook. I love this post and I can totally see what you mean. Years ago I was terrible at archery, couldn’t hit a barn door at 10 paces! But within 3 years, after practice, practice, practice and even more practice with self analysing, I became British champion 2 years in a row. When I first started video editing, I didn’t have the first clue where or how to even get a video onto the timeline or even into the software library yet now I do it with ease, and the key to these is practice, work and not beating yourself up when/if you hit a bump in the road.

This is what I will be applying to my podcasts (still quite new), public speaking (that one is yet to happen lol), webinars (within the next month or two) and building my new business (first business). It’s going to be a long road but such a worthwhile journey 🙂


When I was a child, I suffered a few serious traumas and I was legally blind. This all left me very insecure, shy and depressed. My self esteem was in the toilet. When I was 20 years old, I woke up one day and just said, “I’ve had enough!” “I want to LIVE!” I taught myself how to love me. I searched for knowledge, both mental and spiritual. I became strong and incredibly confident. I can speak up for myself and anyone else! I can walk into a room and the whole room will stop because of the power that I now exhude. People have accused me of being arrogant (which I am so not) because they are intimidated by my strength. This transformation is what I want to share with the world! Thanks Derek for your help getting me on my way. You’re the best!

Lizzy Love

I use to be bad at drawing but LOVED to paint, I was actually pretty good at painting but not at drawing, I knew I was never going to be great at painting until I could get great at drawing too, so I practiced and practiced and practiced, filled tons of sketchbooks, tons of horrible drawings, and 1 day the drawings weren’t bad anymore, and each drawing I did got better then the last! I now consider myself to be pretty good at drawing, but still today every drawing I do is better then the last, 6 months from now I will look back and the drawings I thought were great today wont look so great to me 6 months from now, because the more we practice at anything the better we will get! Love this post, so much truth!!!!


When I was younger, I was angry, depressed and miserable. Then one day I decided that I was just sick of feeling like that. I decided to become happy. My first step was to listen to some self-help cassette tapes that a friend was going to throw away. I listened to them over and over. Every time I started feeling angry or depressed I listened to a tape. Then I started reading every book I could find in the library. When CD’s came out, I listened to those. And I practiced reframing my thoughts – every time I had a negative thought I would stop myself and try to see it in a different way. It probably took me about 10 years to fully embrace happiness, but now it’s rare for me to be really angry or depressed.


Great discussion, Derek!

I used to be horrible about sharing my business and how I help people. I felt very self-conscious about my looks, voice and ability to articulate. Now, I’m much more confident and I’m okay with making mistakes.

What did I do? I kept at it. I made videos, I put myself out there in FB Groups, got people on the phone, did free coaching calls and Periscope helped me to get really confident with being visible.

You can’t grow by sitting and wishing for change.
Change happens with consistent action!

Anfernee Chansamooth

I used to be bad at asking for what I actually wanted. It was during an interaction with a friend that he highlighted that it was easier for me to say what I didn’t want rather than focus on what I truly wanted. So I practiced self awareness. I went on meditation and yoga retreats, I read up on awareness practises, I did an improv theater class, and wrote down what I wanted with a daily morning journal process. Now I’m better at understanding what I want and asking for it.


The first time I stood in front of a group to give a training session I was horrible. Nervous beyond belief and it showed. But I had 75 groups to train and after about the 10th group I got bored with the spiel. So I started asking questions rather than telling them. They knew more than I thought. And gave me great information for the next training session. I now have no problem standing in front of a group. In fact I enjoy it. Especially when I can incorporate the group into my presentation.


I used to be terrible in auditons and may be worst in my mind than in reality because I got jobs, but my perfectionist mind kept hurting me. I never allowed myself to be bad. Now I give myself the permisson to suck and learn from that. Incorporate it in my bucket of knowledge and go on.
NOTE: you might have been boring and monotonous but I have to say the content was so good you got me hooked;)


when I had my first management position I was a terrible manager, I didn’t delegate, didn’t make decisions etc But I decided if I was to carry on managing I should be the best so I starting reading everything I could on the subject but it was really tough putting into practice. Until I decided to hold a weekly “feedback” session where my team rated me and gave me specific areas I needed to improve on, boy was that difficult but it make a massive difference and within 3 months I was finally getting decent ratings and within 6 months I was asked to mentor other people. It taught me the value of feedback when learning a new skill.


Derek – I’m a big fan of your courses and your teaching in general. Would you consider doing some material and potentially a course based on improving your public speaking. Not just for conferences like this, but for video creation in general. It’s clear you’ve trained a lot in this, and I think this training would be useful to anyone running an online business.


I hate to call myself “great” at anything. It’s just not how I see myself. As I see it, Great means you’re in the top 10% of performers in a given category world wide. While I have a number of skills that I used to be terrible at that I am now MUCH better at, none of them have approached what I think the top 10% of performers are capable of.

Before my senior year in high school I could only draw in stick figures. Then I was forced to take an art class against my will. To my surprise, I really enjoyed it. I learned HOW to draw. I learned that there is a science to it. Before the class was done, I was actually able to draw things I saw in the real world, and people could look at those drawings and actually know what they were looking at. I decided to pursue a degree in Media Arts and animation which pushed me to draw much more, and now my drawing skills (and artistic skills in general) are much better than what they used to be. I now have a bachelors degree. I still don’t consider myself a great artist; not even close. Yet if you compare my current work to what I was doing before my senior year in high school, You would never be able to guess the same person did both. Time and work made a huge difference.


Sales (business to business) and making bread by hand

I was the worst performing sales person in the company a year later – after books, workshops, etc – I was winning national sales awards

Bread. What can I say? One day it just clicked. A family favorite. Home made bread


I was afraid of water… afraid to swim… then I met my wife to be. She loved to swim. In fact, she’d skip lunch to swim… so I’d have to go to the pool to see her. Every. Day. Scared to death.
But each day, watching her fly by…. I paddled a little bit better, and better. 30 years later we’re still together and I easily swim a mile every day. And I proudly own 8 T-shirts that announce that I’ve swum around Manhattan, about 30 miles… though we do it one mile at a time.
Never would of… never could of… without that motivation and practice, practice, practice.


Hi Derek,

I love that post. It is so true.

About one month ago, when I made my first test video recording, I was as stiff as a board. It was horrible and I new that it wouldn’t fly at all.

So I became more emphatic, started moving my hands, looked directly into the camera, and tried to speak to the viewer in a more engaging way.

What I discovered: If you analyze how you appear, you can become MUCH better in a short period of time. The promo video on the website is at least 10 times better, if not more, than my first efforts. Maybe 50 to 100 times better than my first, feeble test. And as I kept recording, I kept getting better.

So in my experience, I agree with you: PRACTICE IS KEY!

I’m far from perfect but made some huge steps in a short period of time. And that convinced me, things will be even better in the future, with more practice …

Thanks for your inspiration ….



You’re a funny dude man. If I ever run into you in the city I’ll have to stop you just to say hi. I can tell you’re chilled


Same. Speaking on camera and generally reaching a flow state with speaking. I knew I needed to come across as confident enough on camera such that the message I was trying to convey didn’t get dismissed because I looked like I didn’t know what I was talking about. Energy is infectious and I want to leave my audience on a high when they watch me.

So I started fitting the practice in whenever I could. Instead of listening to the radio in the car I would just talk and talk and talk to get into a flow and get the practice in. Didn’t matter what I talked about, just that I was taking as that was the “micro skill” I was working on. But the great thing is that once you do get into a flow, you feel better in yourself. Interesting.

Great post man!


Thank you Derek, for hitting one of my biggest “things”.

I’m an artist, both on paper and with jewelry. My first works were awful, but now, after years of practice and scrapping probably over a ton of paper and metal, my work is good. I’m not amazing (my bar’s pretty damn high) but I’m certainly more than good enough to get paid for it, which I do.

Speaking of, I just bought gold to work with for the first time. I’ve been working in silver for almost seven years. Time to raise that bar!

This also touches on one of my big pet peeves, which is when people say, “You’re so lucky you’re talented! What a natural!” They have no concept of how hard people have to work to be talented. I think the only thing I’m a “natural” at is working hard, and even that work ethic was instilled in me by helping out on my grandparents farm every weekend and hay season growing up.

Why do people think this? How can they not know?


I used to be ridiculously horrible at speaking in front of people! After a TON of speaking opportunities and practicing, I got way more comfortable. And although I’m not a knock it out of the park speaker, I at least am no longer afraid to talk with individuals or groups of people…which is pretty cool! Thanks for the article Derek!


Photography. I used to take very bad “touristy” shots. Composition was basic bullseye-in-the-middle, used to cut things out of the shot.

Taught myself photography by visiting websites on topics including landscape photography, nature photography, artistic composition 101. Posted hundreds of shots on a weather website and Flickr for people to vote and comment on.

Since then, I’ve had my artwork … yes, my photos have now become artwork … shown in art galleries, museums, and my own solo show. I’ve sold both in person at local craft shows and internationally online. This past year, I sold ten 16x20s to a cancer research and treatment center.

And now, partly inspired by you, Derek, I’ve just created my own art website: patriciastaffordart.com … You said “2016: Go All In.” Great advice! Thank you!

Tom Camp

I used to be AWFUL at singing. I’m not GREAT by any means but now when I step into a room and perform, people pay attention and love it. I practiced, bought courses, and studied with multiple vocal mentors. It took me every bit of two years to find “my voice”

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