If you’re anything like me, you hate not being good at something. Whether it’s a new sport, a change in career, or a creative pursuit – trying something new and being pretty adequate, or even downright rubbish, brings up these horrible feelings of ‘failing’.
For example, I recently decided to learn to play the piano. I was really excited – I had visions of wowing my family and friends with musical renditions, having rousing sing-a-longs, and unleashing my creative potential.
The piano arrives. I Google ‘piano tutorial Adele – Someone Like You’ and start to try and follow along. Um, yeah, actually, this is quite hard. I realize my fingers can’t actually move very fast and I’m getting cramp in my hand. The notes I’m playing sound like Adele’s had a stroke or is just very drunk. I feel a tightness in my chest and a running dialogue in my head telling me ‘you can’t do this’, ‘you’re rubbish at everything’, ‘you always fail’. It’s at best, irritating, and at its worst, debilitating.
Often, we can brush off not being good at something with an excuse like ‘well, it doesn’t really matter anyway. It’s only learning the piano; it’s not like it’s important.’ That’s true – a hobby doesn’t matter too much. You aren’t building a career on it and your livelihood doesn’t depend on it.
And I’d say that’s exactly why you should be bad at as many small things as you can.
With that, I’ve put together a list of 3 reasons why getting good at being ‘bad’ at small things can set you up to succeed in the most important areas of your life.
1You Learn Perseverance
Although we may want to, we can’t naturally be good at something as soon as we try our hand to it. For something low-risk, like learning to play the piano, that feeling of sucking might last a few weeks; then things start to flow better and you get a boost of confidence. It’s a lot easier to stick at something that doesn’t impact your career or your finances.
When the bigger things come along that require stickability, sometimes feeling like you’re ‘good’ at something doesn’t come around for months or years. And it’s hard to stick through years of feeling like you’re wading through treacle trying to get somewhere.
But in fact, when you spent those few weeks being bad at something small, you were preparing yourself for persevering through those more important goals that require more stamina. The more often you put yourself in small bitesize situations where you aren’t succeeding, the more you mentally rehearse for those big moments where you’re working towards something that really matters to you.
When you’re fighting for that next big promotion and you feel like you’ll never get there, you can recall that time you spent a few weeks being rubbish at cooking, or those few months that you couldn’t get the hang of tennis. It’s all armour for the future, my friend!
2You Realize That We All Start Off Rubbish
You’re starting a new business and you literally have no idea what you’re doing. Maybe you’re experiencing rejection, or you just always feel like you’re chasing your tail. You think ‘I should have just aimed for something smaller – I was never going to pull off anything this big’.
And then your mind travels back to that time that you renovated your outside shed, and you realized that you hadn’t had a clue what to do then, either. You remember how you felt so annoyed at yourself, and so rubbish about your lack of knowledge. That was a smaller project than starting a new business, but the feeling was exactly the same.
Often, we tell ourselves that something feels so difficult to achieve because, put simply, it is just too difficult. We can imagine that we shouldn’t have aimed so high and should start smaller, because then it will be easier.
The thing is, inadequacy and fear of failure feels the same whether it’s a small hobby or a big career change. The only thing that’s different is your goal post. So if you’re someone who tries a lot of new things and takes on new challenges, you start to realize that those feelings of discomfort when you aren’t good at something yet are just part of trying something new. You remember that we’re all rubbish at the beginning, and it’s in no way a reflection of our ability to achieve something in the end.
3You Learn What You’re Scared Of – And Stop Being Scared Of It
When you play a video game, there may be a certain part of the game that always trips you up and you can’t move past. Over time, as you play the game more and more, you learn why that obstacle is difficult, and you eventually learn how to defeat and move past it.
So, it is with learning how to be bad at something. When we try something new, we get the same dialogue running through our heads every time; these stories we tell ourselves. As I mentioned, mine sounds a little like this:
‘You can’t do this’
‘You’re rubbish at everything’
‘You always fail’
It’s hard to rationalize or talk our way out of listening to these voices sometimes, and we have all fallen victim to believing them.
When you put yourself in situations where you often make mistakes and often fail, those thought patterns will come up more and more often. Over time, you notice what they say. And over time, you’re so used to them that they start to lose their grip on you.
If you weren’t used to trying and failing on things, you’d be much less familiar with this dialogue when it does crop up. And with anything unfamiliar, you’d want to try and ignore these voices, fight them, or give in to them.
When you get used to this self-talk, you can just notice it. You can see it as an old, slightly annoying friend that’s trying to protect you but that you don’t necessarily have to listen to. But this only comes with practice – so putting yourself in scenarios where that voice rears its ugly head is the only way to know the nature of the beast!
Ultimately, being ‘bad’ at small things is excellent practice for being ‘bad’ – and then being awesome – at the bigger things that really matter to us. By sucking at the tiny things, we learn resilience, perseverance and mindfulness for those huge life-changing challenges that set us up for success.
What does ‘being bad’ at something mean to you? How does it feel, and how do you push through? I’d love to hear your thoughts!