Jason Fried

February 10, 2022

Getting better vs. feeling better

Over the past few months I've been taking guitar lessons from a friend of mine who happens to be an exceptional teacher. I got lucky.

I used to play years ago, but probably only retained 10% of what I knew, so I was as close to starting from scratch as any barely-experienced player could be. Basically, I could dabble and play some chords, but my skills plateaued quickly after that. And it's a lonely, desolate, tumbleweedy-flat plateau. You don't get better hanging out there.

So that's why I'm back to in-person lessons. I tried YouTube, I tried some books, I tried an app or two, I tried a bunch of stuff, but I've discovered I simply learn guitar best with one-on-one in-person instruction.

And I've gotten better. But I've also discovered there's another dimension that unlocks with practice: feeling better doing the thing you're learning.

It would be easy to dismiss feeling better as the identical twin of getting better. But I've found there's a difference.

Getting better is about improving specifically, feeling better is about confidence and comfort. It's a certain ease that develops alongside getting better. I feel better about the guitar itself — it's no longer this intimidating object. Granted, I've got 1000 miles to go before I get where I want to be with it, but I've passed the first waypoint: It just feels better to play, even when I play poorly.

I find myself picking up the guitar more frequently. Not to literally practice, but to literally fuck around. Now that I feel better about it, I've given myself more latitude to have some fun with it. More skills bring more headroom, but better feels bring more heartroom.

I remember a similar feeling when I was learning web design way back in the mid-90s. At first it was hard. And I didn't like it because I wasn't any good at it. I was learning, I could make stuff, but I didn't feel comfortable yet. I hadn't pocketed enough skills to feel at ease. And then, eventually, I did. And I liked it! I kinda loved it. I barely had more knowledge under my belt in that very moment, but I had a sense that I could do this, I want to do this, I feel good doing this. It opened me up to further learning.

I've come to believe this is the first milestone worth shooting for. Feeling good about the thing you're doing. Not playing a song, or running a distance, or designing a page, or throwing a perfect pot on the wheel, or whatever — but simply enjoying the thing you're doing. Once you hit that, you're on your way.