On Improving cover image

On Improving

Matt Trask • June 30, 2019

Read Time: 4 mins

self improving

A funny thing happened today. I was riding in an organized cycling ride called the Georgia 400 Century, named from a popular highway that takes people from the suburbs of Atlanta to downtown. The catch for this ride is that you spend about 3 miles on the actual highway. Police close it off at 7am and we get 30 minutes to get on and back off. It's so much fun, and I look forward to this ride now every year since I did it three years ago. The idea behind this post is what my mother said to me.

You must be tired

Every year I've done this ride, my parents like to meet me at the rest stops and see how it goes. This year, my father rode with me (he did the 9 mile course), and we rode together up til the on ramp to the highway when I broke ahead and caught up to a group averaging my pace. My mom was waiting at the top of the dreaded Mother in Law hill (there is 3 massive hills called the Three Sisters, and once last one called the Mother in Law. We end on that, so its a great punch in the face) when I saw her about 42 minutes in. She waited for my dad, collected him and they came home so he could shower. After that they tried to connect with me at a rest stop. Except I kept blowing through them. Even with stopping, refilling bottles, eating gu (not as strange as it sounds), and resting for a minute, I was on the last pit stop when they got to the third one. When I finished, my mom initially thought I was just tired and confused until she say the times I posted on Strava and realized I've gotten incredibly more powerful and faster in the past year. This is how I did it, and how it can be related not just to cycling but pretty much anything.

It's good to fail

In cycling, failure is mostly centered around getting dropped from the group. What that means is instead of slowing down, they are leaving you behind. If you are going on this ride, its expected that you know that, know the route, and will eventually finish. Originally when I started riding with groups, I did a no drop ride. It was fun, but also not terribly challenging, so when a new group at a sister shop popped up I made the move. I went from riding with commuters and people who ride causually to racers and people averaging north of 100 miles a week. Suffice to say, it was a challenge. After being dropped, I started working out and working hard on non-group days to catch up. It eventually worked that I would be able to hang longer. I did cheat a little and bought a Garmin that gives me data about my speed, cadence, time etc so that way I could climb hills easier (it's still not easy). But in less than a year, I went from being dropped and kind of dreading the ride to showing up ready to go. Getting dropped isn't terrible, its a good reminder that I have work to do.

Find people smarter and better than you

In order to get to the level I needed to be, I found people who are faster, stronger, and better than me. I push myself to keep up, they don't drop themselves down. This can be applied to pretty much anything. When I was learning how to program, I followed all kinds of people on twitter I knew to be more experienced and smarter than I. It was a great way to ramp up and learn. Was it easy to keep up? Not at all, but when I look back, I'm thankful for how it worked out. I'm doing the same with photography. I look at people who have been doing it for years, understanding their lens choices and their choice of composition. Am I going to go out and do the same thing right now? No, not yet. However, watching them helps me remain mindful to what I am doing before I press the action button on my camera.

You can't get better without failing. You will always find a way to fail. Whether you are dropped from a ride, fired from a job, not selling photos, giving a bad conference talk or anything else, the thought of failure looms large and is ready to make itself known. Instead of fearing it, accept it, love it, and use it to move yourself forward. Eventually you will see improvement and even wow the people watching you.