Find Something You Suck At

I am reading a book called “Life Reimagined” by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, and in it, she tells a story about her father who tried to learn French. He continued to do it for years and years hardly being able to speak it well at all but just kept on doing it — I assume because he liked it on some level. But the great line that her father said was: “Some things are worth doing poorly.” What a great and hilarious idea for an overachiever to ponder!

Over the years, I’ve done some art projects with friends. We called these projects the “Craft Salons.” We’ve often done things none of us have ever done before, or things only one of us was good at or something. And so much of our conversation revolved around how bad the newcomers were or how naturally talented someone was. So much of it was about everyone’s skill level, both technically at the craft, and also in terms of how creative they were with their ideas. And I started thinking… I don’t think I’ve ever had a creative group-experience where there isn’t some conversation about the quality of our skill. Every time someone says something about their own inadequacies or how good everyone else is. And of course that totally makes sense — we are doing something new and people feel self-conscious, but that’s really such an interesting observation. Why would that be the forerunner of our thoughts? Why not talk about how fun or difficult or surprising or charmed we all are by this new craft? I mean, those comments have been said too, but there’s always something about quality and skill.

So back to Hagerty’s father’s great statement that some things are worth doing poorly… Ask yourself: “What is worth doing poorly?”

Is it enough to just be creative doing something you love? If you have been doing for years and years and years, is it enough to do it just because you love it? Even if you still kind of suck at it?

About 10 years ago I started doing glass fusing, which is a technique used to join glass pieces together by partly melting the glass at high temperature. One of the things I loved about fusing glass was that you could produce this incredibly beautiful thing right out of the gate on your first try. I didn’t have to work incredibly hard for years and years to build my technique, so I could actually just focus on the creative process of it — the color and the design. Yes of course there’s tons of glass artists that have an incredibly advanced technique, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. What I loved about it, was that I just simply didn’t have to learn very much. I could just go at it. And what a delight that was because there are so few things in life like that. I have probably 15 or 20 pieces in my house and people see them and are fairly impressed and don’t even think to ask if I made it because they assume I bought it. I’m telling you — it’s not my technique, it’s just really easy to make something that looks semi professional. But would I have loved it if I couldn’t do it right away? I think honestly it was a relief when I found it. I have so many other things — singing, writing music, acting, dance, comedy — so many things that took YEARS to get good at. It’s exhausting! So frankly to be good at something immediately was a relief.

But that is because my mind believes that if it’s not GOOD, then I should be embarrassed about it, or just want to rush ahead to the good stage. This is so totally ingrained that right now you’re probably like, “Well DUH you want it to be good. What the hell are you talking about Katie?” Nobody wants to do something badly. I mean why would you?

Right? So let’s put a pin in that for a second…

One of the things that’s so interesting to me when I offer my women’s improv retreats at Chico Hot Springs, is the amount of anxiety these women have about meeting new people, and potentially feeling self-conscious. Or just general performance anxiety! People talk about how they are “not funny” or “not creative”, and they are afraid. So one of the things that I make sure to do, is give them the tools to help them stay present. This way the process ends up being funny and creative because they are in the flow. They are present and connected and not self-conscious. The minute they get self-conscious the material gets less good.

So that’s a disaster if you can’t get out of your head, right? I mean for anything you do in life. There’s a lot of truth to that. But what’s interesting is that it really takes away from people’s joy of learning to do improv if they spend the entire time assessing whether they’re funny or not and are comparing themselves to the other people there. And really, when you think about it, what an incredible waste of time for all of us who do this in whatever area of our lives that we do it! Can you think of something where you just simply wasted what could’ve been a really fun experience by being worried about the quality of your creativity?

You know the question you always hear in self-help circles is: “what would you do if you knew you could not fail?” And people say something like “start a business!”, or they talk about becoming whatever they have always wanted to be without the fear failure. But here’s a different question: What would you do if you knew you would fail? What would you just freakin’ do anyway?

So, what’s the answer to that question? What would you do if you knew you were going to suck at it? Would you consider doing it anyway?

I think what I want to do is challenge you to find something , (it doesn’t have to be changing your job or whatever), but find some small intriguing thing that you’re pretty darn sure you’re not gonna have any skill at, and try it anyway.

I did that this week with cooking and much to their shock, my family did not die of food poisoning! It was actually pretty fun and I learned a lot. I felt competent and kind of want to keep going. Anyone who knows me would be a little startled by this because I’m 50 years old and I have not really learned how to cook beyond birthday cakes. And of course not succeeding at cooking actually really does have a negative effect on your family life! Ha! But at any rate, I know I can always throw it away and go across the street and spend six dollars on 3 $2 pieces of pizza and we will all be perfectly happy. You guys know that right? Two dollar pizza in New York is the best pizza — don’t ever pay anymore than that if you visit here.

So what are some other things? Maybe writing poetry or learning an instrument or pottery or trying to grow something like flowers or vegetables… or training for some athletic thing or joining a local sports team or volunteering for something where you’re not concerned about moving up any ladder but just simply doing low-skill things that help people. Something where you don’t have to worry about whether you’re going to be good at it or not. (Pretty much anyone can ladle soup into a bowl.)

Maybe you should try something you used to enjoy when you were little. Or you could go with someone else and do something they love to do and are good at and just really simply make a decision not to care if you’re good at it as well. Go just to experience what they experience as a way to connect with them further. Make it about them, and not about you.

What’s worth doing poorly? It’s a funny question to actively try to figure out. But just try it- find something to suck at, and see how you feel!