A Few Thoughts on Growth & Eating Dirt

2 min read

A new guy joined our team at work last week. In his old job, he used a programming language called Python. At our work, we use a language called R. There’s a pretty big difference between the two.

I talked to this guy yesterday. He was pretty flustered by the steep learning curve of R. I told him not to stress too much because fortunately our managers give us quite a bit of flexibility and allow us to learn on the job.

I’m sure this guy will pick it up over time, not because he has a PhD (although he does) and not because he was born to be a programmer, but because each day he’ll learn just a little more. And each week he’ll become incrementally better. And as the months pass, R will begin to feel more natural.

Don’t get me wrong, he’ll eat a lot of dirt along the way. It will suck at times. His code will produce errors. It will be frustrating and annoying. But he’ll get there. I know this to be true because I took the same path over the past 11 months. Early on, I knew very little about R. Now, after having worked with it every day for nearly a year, I’m light years ahead of where I started.

And that brings up a simple philosophy I have regarding “growth” that I have developed over the past couple years. It applies not just to my day job, but to my life in

1. Anything new sucks at first.

2. Nobody cares if I suck. My failures will mostly be ignored or go unnoticed.

3. If I’m willing to eat a lot of dirt (rack up failures), I’ll learn and grow at breakneck speed.

The first point is obvious. If you’ve never done something before, you’ll suck at first. That’s just a fact. Recognizing this fact helps you get past the early failures.

The second point is less obvious. The truth is, nobody is tracking your failures. Most people don’t care. In fact, most people aren’t even aware of your failures. Once you realize this, you can see that you’re the only person who can use your failures as excuses to stop trying.

The third point is the most important. Eating dirt comes with the territory when you’re trying to learn and grow at breakneck speed. If you can learn to be okay with it, you’ll advance faster than everyone around you. 

My advice? Don’t even view failures as bad. View them as inevitable. You will rack up a list of them. But the more you learn to let them slide off you like water off a duck’s back, the faster you will grow. And growth naturally leads to more skills, more knowledge, higher income, and more opportunities.

Anyone who accomplishes anything worthwhile has to eat dirt not with a spoon, but with a shovel. So grab your shovel and get moving.

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6 Replies to “A Few Thoughts on Growth & Eating Dirt”

  1. Hi Zach,

    Nice Post. I agree that the absolute confirmed route to failure is oneself. If one gives up learning new things, it is 100% failure. Keep trying and the success will eventually materialise.


  2. Awesome post. I try to remind my kids occasionally that failing means there is an opportunity to learn and get better. It is not a bad thing unless we don’t take that opportunity.

  3. Good post. Love the analogy. After retiring early at age 51 and beginning my bucket list of tech jobs I wanted to learn and do I ate a lot of dirt. It was a wake up after being top dog in my first career for so long doing the same old but comfortable crap everyday. I learned the new stuff and also saw many who didn’t learn fast enough get the ax. I found it all a little stressful but an interesting experience of which I wouldn’t trade away for anything. Glad you and your place of business allows people to ramp-up. Some places are only forgiving for a very short period of time.

    1. Thanks, LF Tommy! Much appreciated. I am fortunate to be in a position where I’m given some space to learn new skills and grow. Kudos to you for taking on the challenge of learning new skills in your own career. Many people are afraid to do so for fear of failure or they’re just too comfortable where they are. Eating dirt never feels great but it’s always worth it in the long run. Thanks for the feedback 🙂

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