In December 2013, my friend Ben talked me into taking up what he called the Expert in a Year challenge:

“Do you fancy playing table tennis every day for a year? I think that if you do the right training you can get into the top 250 players in the UK – a level that hardly anyone who doesn’t start playing as a kid ever achieves. Ohh and we’ll film it as we go and post it online so everyone can see if you fail”

I spent the next 12 months training hard. On top of the daily coached sessions, my ‘holidays’ for the year involved intense training camps in Hungary, Denmark and Middlesbrough. As time went on the intensity ramped up and by the final 8 weeks I was sacrificing every weekend to travel and play in tournaments. Then after all that work…

I failed.

The challenge ended a week ago and I am still nowhere near the top 250. I wasn’t even good enough to get an official ranking. Worse it was the most public failure ever – I told everyone I met what I was doing and posted it all over the internet. And now everyone has seen me fail!

So what does that mean? Have I completely wasted my year? Does everyone now think I am looser? Should I just go curl up, cry and eat pizza and Ben & Jerry’s?

I hope not. Despite the call of the Ben & Jerry’s and the an on-the-book failure I am actually feeling really proud of myself.

The Power of Naivety

The challenge was almost unachievable, and I’m pretty sure Ben knew it.

I mean, would I have done it if he had said:
“Do you fancy playing table tennis every day for a year, and when you finish you’ll probably be a bit better than you are now.”

I would have told him where to go. After all, if your dream is uninspiring, you will quit – or never start.

When you aim high enough it’s hard to fail completely

I may not have reached the high goal we set, but I still got pretty darn good at table tennis.

Mastery is Tough; Mastery is Possible

I saw it all the way through! For me that is a massive result in itself, I really don’t have a good record of persevering when I get bored or think that I am not improving. And there were definitely times in the year when the going got tough, really tough.

I learnt a lot from the challenge. Not just about table tennis, not just about myself, but I think most importantly I learnt that there are no shortcuts to mastery. You need to put in the work. But if you put in the work, anything is possible.

This is such an important lesson that has meaning far beyond table tennis.

The value of hard work is just as true in business. While I was starting from a poor position in this challenge – being an uncoordinated computer geek who throws like a girl – I actually have a pretty good foundation to now put in that hard, persevering work and master business.

Happiness is the Quality and Quantity of Your Relationships with Others

We got so much support during this challenge. Support that only grew as our goal got less and less likely. Someone wrote in a comment on one of our videos:

“If you had actually succeeded at getting into the top 250, I would have felt terrible. I have been trying to improve myself over all these years and haven’t yet reached that level.”

Instead of making him feel terrible, the challenge has shown that learning correct technique and dramatically improving is possible for anyone – but at the same time it has really shone a spotlight onto how hard working and how deserving those who are experts at table tennis really are.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill.

See you at the next failure!
Ohh, and I am not giving up on table tennis just yet. Expert in a decade anyone?