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December 10, 2014

Designers and Developers—Can You Be Amazing?

DesDevHave you ever watched a friend or coworker do something you never—in a million years—thought you could do? Have you ever said, “Wow, she’s amazing!” and wondered if you could ever be amazing yourself?

You can. Mike McGee is living proof.

McGee, a co-founder of Chicago tech school Starter League, told a roomful of designers and developers “How to be Amazing” at the November 18 Chicago Interactive Design & Development session.

He reminded us that no one is born amazing, but that anyone can be amazing. Here’s how.

Be a Student, not a Fan.

“I like to go to concerts and sports events, where I can watch people do amazing things,” he said. “And I find myself asking, ‘How does he do that?’”

By studying the stories of some famous athletes, McGee has discovered a “secret” that really shouldn’t be surprising. Amazing people became amazing by practicing like crazy.

  • High-wire walker Nik Wallenda did treadmill work with a 35-pound dumbbell in each hand to prepare for his Chicago skyscraper-spanning wire-walk in November. To maintain the confidence he needs, he works out three to four hours a day.
  • Basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan was driven to maniacal levels of training after being cut from his high school team. McGee said, “Before Jordan became better at basketball than anyone else, he became better at practice than anyone else.”
  • Golf legend Ben Hogan didn’t win a tournament until his 10th year as a pro, but years of work to overcome a fierce hook eventually made him dominant—even after a car crash that nearly killed him.

McGee urged attendees to study the methods of amazing people, not just marvel at their amazing-ness.

From Pathetic to Perfect.

McGee’s next example of being amazing was … Mike McGee!

Until a birthday party in February, 2014, McGee was an occasional and terrible bowler, with scores under 100. But at the party, he noticed someone “hooking” his ball—spinning it so it curved into the pins at a more effective angle—and decided he wanted to learn how to do it.

“It’s hard when you’re very competitive, like me” he said, “because we like to be good at something right away.”

Nevertheless, he started hitting the lanes two to three times a week, watching YouTube videos and picking up tips from new friends at the bowling alley. Within six weeks he broke 200, and on July 26, 2014 he rolled his first perfect 300 game.

And what did his friends on Facebook say? “You are amazing!”

Crushing Impostor Syndrome.

“Your greatest strength and your greatest enemy,” said McGee, “is your mind.”

He insists that any of us can be amazing at whatever we choose, once we choose to put in the time and effort. “You have to crush that impostor syndrome, that voice that asks ‘Why am I qualified to do this?’ Once you get into something, it’s a lot easier.”

McGee also discussed research by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck on the importance of rejecting a fixed mindset—the belief that talent defines success—in favor of a growth mindset where brains and talent are just the starting point.

But don’t expect miracles. McGee stresses persistence and education, always emphasizing the process of practice over the end result:

“When you put together a lot of one percent improvements, you’ll see some crazy things happen!”

Check out Mike’s presentation below:

You can also view the entire presentation on YouTube here.

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