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Finding Improvement With An Outsider’s Help

Most people want to improve, I think.  I know there are facets of my life that I’m constantly trying to improve.

I like to think that by thinking, working hard, reading a book on the subject, or talking with someone, I can figure out a way to get better at something.  Those things do help me.  But there comes a point at which your perception of yourself and your abilities becomes skewed.

You need, I need, the correction from an outsider.

But, does anyone like improvement when it comes from correction?  When an outsider critically analyzes your productivity and provides their assessment?

I’m learning to like it.  Maybe “like” it is not the best word.  Value it is perhaps better.

I’ve never liked hearing here’s where I needed to improve.  I prefer to live under the illusion that I’ve got it all figured out, that I got it right and best and perfect the very first time.  I am a success.

But, as I continue to learn, you don’t succeed without correction.  Sometimes, even failure.  And as much as I don’t like correction, I really don’t like failure.

In high school, I didn’t like it when a coach pulled me off the floor and chewed me out.

What about the others who were making the same mistakes?

I didn’t like it when that same coach made me completely rework the form of my shot.  He started as if I didn’t know how to shoot a basketball, making me shoot 1950’s set shots.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

I thought that, but didn’t say it.  I’d already been chewed out once for talking back.  I had learned that lesson.

“Your right elbow flails like a wild turkey with it’s head cut off.  Keep it directly in line with your front knee and push it up and forward toward the basket.”

Every other day for an hour in that hot gym at Madison High School in San Antonio where he refused to turn on the air conditioner, I practiced shooting a set shot.  If I didn’t do it correctly, he made me run suicide drills and then start the shooting drill over again.

After a couple of weeks, we progressed to a jump shot.

And whenever I didn’t do the jump shot correctly, every time my elbow went wild, I lined up on the base line and started running.

Eventually I got it.

The next fall I broke my arm in two places and spent twelve weeks in a cast.  When I finally got out of that cast, my arm had shriveled up to skin and bone. The muscles had atrophied to the point that I could barely dribble a basketball with my right hand.

So, I took my basketball, found a deserted basketball court, and I started working out.  I used that crazy coach’s shooting drill to regain my ability to shoot a basketball.

I happen to be a pessimist by nature.  If you tell me nine good things and one bad thing, I will fixate on the bad.

It’s who I am.  I’m trying to get better, even at age 41.

Because of my pessimist nature, because of my desire to not hear one bad thing, I have become analytical and sometimes even critical of things I do.

This is a good thing because it can enable to correct those flaws and mistakes before others notice them.

This is a bad thing because sometimes I still think I’ve found all the flaws and mistakes.

You never see them all or find them.

You still need other people, outsiders, people that you trust, to help you improve.

After one of my very first sermons, when I didn’t think I’d done a good job (but secretly hoped that I had), a friend spoke the truth to me, “That was bad.”

He didn’t offer any advice on getting better, but he did help me recognize the need to improve.

In my late twenties, I worked on a book for a year.  After showing it to one agent, that person suggested I work with an editor to fine-tune it.  I contacted the editor, sent the manuscript, and when I got it back, I felt hopeless.

I’d never seen something marked up that much.  EVER.

In college, I’d written some papers for a professor, who was notorious for bleeding all over them with his red pens.  Each time I thought I’d found every misplaced comma, period, space, typo, incomplete sentence, grammatical error, or incoherent thought.  Each time I was wrong.

His bleeding pen marks paled in comparison to this editor’s.

I couldn’t take the correction then.  I put the manuscript aside.  I even stopped writing for awhile.

And then I started again.  This time, I knew I needed an outside voice and as painful as it might be, I needed truth.  I needed someone to shoot straight with me and to point out the weaknesses and bad habits.

I contacted an aquaitance to see if they would take a look at a couple of chapters.  She wouldn’t, but she put me in touch with someone else.  This person read the first few chapters and then gave me some feedback.

Even though I gritted my teeth, this person was right on every point.

I took the correction and went back to work.

A few months later, I sent this editor the entire manuscript.  A few weeks later, she came back with her comments.

It took me a couple of hours to work up the nerve to even open up the email.

She had some nice things to say.  She also had some suggestions for improvement.

Guess what I fixated on?

And yet, she was correct again.  I see those areas where I need to improve.

Finding improvement with help from an outsider can be hard.  It’s tough to hear and to listen to, but it is a way to get better.  As smart as we think we are, as much as we think we can figure it out, we’re sometimes blind to our weaknesses.  It helps to have someone that you can go to and have those blind spots exposed.

And if they do it in a nice way, all the better.

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