Before you get too far ahead of me, I don’t mean it’s good to be bad in a Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan sort of way, although I am certain they would disagree with me. That is a topic for another day, and most likely a different blog.
When I say ‘bad’, I mean it’s OK to not be perfect at whatever it is you desire to be good at. The reality is, you will stink at something new for quite some time. The more afraid you are to fall on your face with it, the more difficult it will be for you to gain any proficiency. That’s the delicious irony of it all. The more you try to avoid stinking, the more you set yourself up to do just that. Your best bet is to get the stink out of the way as soon as possible.
Let’s say you want to do some public speaking. That first speech is going to be tough. You’re going to want it to be perfect, and it won’t be. But the next one will be better. And the one after that. In fact, even if you think you did a fantastic job at speech number one, if you watch a video of it two or three years later, you will probably cringe at how awful you were. And three years from now, the same will be true about a speech you gave today.
Children don’t suffer from this like adults do. For some reason, they will struggle and stumble through something new in order to learn it. As a result, then learn it at a much faster pace than an adult. Most people attribute this to children having a sponge-like mind, whereas we adults have long lost our sponginess. While I do believe that children develop faster for a while, I also think their ability to be bad and move on quickly deserves some of the credit.
Think of a child learning a language. They don’t care about making mistakes and potentially offending a native speaker of that language. Instead, they welcome a chance to practice with a native speaker and make all kinds of mistakes. An adult learning Japanese for example, after two years of study would hesitate to address someone from Japan to try out their skills for fear of looking stupid. A child would do this after one week of farting around with some Japanese flash cards. Is it any wonder they pick it up so much faster?
I don’t know when this attitude sets in as we grow up. Perhaps years of schooling teaches us that there is only one right answer, and that everything is a test that we have to pass or else our lives won’t amount to anything. All I know is, once this attitude gets a hold of us, it is difficult to get rid of it. But, if we ever want to do something challenging and new, something that makes us nervous, then we have to be willing to suck at it for a while. Otherwise, the goal is not risky enough.
It is good that we worry about not being good at something. That means we care about it. If we don’t care if we stink, then the thing we are working on is not very important.
So, we have to walk that fine line. Pursue something that matters to us, that we care about enough that the thought of being bad at it makes us cringe, then go out and stink at it for a while.
It’s a great way to get good.