Damn I hate this phrase now.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard it. It would blast through my head on repeat through every loss or training session that involved any kind of "tool" or "instrument" for the past 15 years. My grandfather always told me that "You're not allowed to hate anything", but I despise this phrase. There’s a nugget of truth in it, but in my life it’s done far more harm than good.
I've been a fan of first-person shooters since Halo was released on the original Xbox. I've always been and incredibly competitive and wanted to be the best at something-anything. So I played and practiced Halo CONSTANTLY before ever having the opportunity to play against my friends. When the day finally came, I stomped all of them with pride. My father bought me an ethernet hub both igniting my passion for technology and video games and making our house the capital for LAN parties in Heber Springs, AR.
Then Halo 2—and the first online play for the Halo series—came out I went from the cliche big fish in a little pond, to a small fish tossed in the sea. No longer could I stomp everyone in sight, and my fragile little ego took a beating. I'd frequently wake my father with screams of "LAGGG!!", or "NO WAY! THAT WAS TOTALLY A HEADSHOT!"
In an effort to grow as an individual, I began to take the exact opposite approach. Instead of blaming external factors like network or hardware quality, I internalized everything. If my team lost, it was my fault. There was always something I could've done better. Despite my best efforts I just wasn't capable of becoming a great Halo player.
This attitude was somewhat healthier than blaming everything(and everyone) else, but left unchecked it would cause me severe mental anguish. For several years I suffered an almost constant feeling of cognitive dissonance from my compulsion to always be in control, but feeling as though I was not capable of achievement.
Skip forward several years to 2016. I've (somehow) finished my Master's in C.S. and have a 1 year old son, but I still have a passion for video games. Tons of FPS games have come and gone. The eSports scene has grown exponentially from the small-scale LAN tournaments of years past. Then Overwatch is released.
This game brought friends together that I haven't played with in years, and it’s just like the Halo era all over again. I no longer dreamed of being a "pro-gamer", but I still want to be "good". I had always heard that mouse and keyboard is better for FPS, and I knew it had to be true but that I was just incapable of using a mouse to aim. I made the switch from console to PC and vowed that, by whatever means necessary, I would figure it out.
I would do aim drills for hours. Very quickly my aim became much better than it was when playing on a console, but there was still something missing. I got stuck at the very average rating of "Gold" - another proverbial brick-wall.
Once again, I was disappointed and upset at myself-but now I'm a college graduate and a father. I've grown past the 15 year old mentality of blaming everything else, through my self-loathing 20s, and out the other side to knowing that I'm capable of more.
I decided to build a new PC. I saw a small jump in accuracy and winrate, but ultimately end up, once again, a little disappointed with the results of my new purchase. A friend recommended getting a 144 hz. monitor. "But I think I've read somewhere that the human eye can only see 30 FPS", I said in an attempt to blame my lack of talent again. He urged me through the purchase and I reluctantly followed through.
I'm at work when the box is delivered, and I rush home on my lunch break to try it out. "It's sooo smoooooth." I remember thinking.
Literally overnight, my accuracy skyrockets from ~35% to ~58%, and my win rate climbs along with it. I easily climb out of the average bracket and into Diamond(~75th percentile).
"By God, I guess sometimes I CAN blame my damn tools!"
I start making other changes. Online resources and reviewers like BlurBusters, r0ach’s famous BIOS optimization guide, and Battle(non)sense help me learn about input lag and PC optimization. I figure out how to boost my performance and quickly attain “Master” tier—90th percentile, and the height of my Overwatch career.
I believe many of us have been living without the knowledge of the second half of my grandfather's motto. If a good craftsman never blames his tools it's not because he somehow magically creates high-quality products with middling tools, it's because he's invested time and effort into making sure that his tools perfectly fit the task at hand. Maybe the phrase is really:
A good craftsman never blames his tools... because he's curated and honed them over the lifetime of his work.
It’s this lesson that led me to develop Syslat and break out of the ruts in my life.
In the past ~3 years, since the events described above, I have:
...Man that last one is a mouthful, but I'm very proud of it nonetheless.
If, like me, you've been blaming yourself for all of the negative circumstances in your life, I'd like to encourage you to come back to the middle. While we aren't in control of everything, as we are so often reminded, neither are we to blame for all of the circumstances that affect our lives.
It's very possible that your tools are holding you back from accomplishing your goals, and the only way to progress beyond the plateau you're on is to change your point of view. Dial back the self-hate and look at what you're trying to accomplish as objectively as possible.
Good luck, and may your tools stay sharp.