Be Brave Enough to Suck at Something New

Being good requires being bad long enough to learn something new, and if often intimidating. It doesn’t matter what you’re wanting to learn, there’s a suck curve associated with learning anything new and you’re likely to feel this ickiness many times throughout the learning process. I have sucked at many things until I mastered them.

Many call it a learning curve but it’s really more like a rollercoaster. You start out going straight up, because you’ve nowhere else to go, and you gain some sort of skill or ability because you can only get better from nothing. Then, after some time you may hit a plateau, and you’ll flail around there for awhile, and it may even be followed by a sharp drop, where nothing you’re trying seems to be working, and you feel like you’re stuck in a valley. You’re higher than when you started, but still not as far along as you’d like to be. Then with continued dedication, you soldier on and work your way forward, maybe climbing a smaller hill, with a shorter plateau and a smaller drop… you get the picture. Life is much the same.

I joined a swim team at the local YMCA when I was 14. I could barely make it through one practice. I sucked. So many other activities had come so easily to me… ballet, gymnastics, whatever I tried I excelled in, until I got into that pool. I went home dejected and feeling like an absolute failure.

But there was something about the sport that had drawn me in and kept me going back, training harder, not giving up. And I improved. I got faster. Fast enough that as a freshman in high school I was on the varsity swimming team. That definitely did not suck!

Track didn’t go so well for me. I tried for two weeks, forcing my gawky teenage body to do sprints and leg-burners around that track. I did everything I could but still felt like an ostrich with arms and legs flailing. I sucked and I knew I wasn’t going to get any better, so I quit. I don’t consider that a failure, I consider that a reality. Some things just aren’t for you. And that’s ok.

The word “Failure” triggers such strong emotions, conjuring thoughts of futile efforts and incompetence. But rarely in any venture is the trajectory to success a straight line. Setbacks are to be expected, especially at the beginning.

Some people get so upset with themselves for not being able to do something right the first time which is absolutely absurd. Learning a new skill or acquiring new understanding takes time. Give yourself a break.

Some activities, sports, and interests have higher learning curves than others, and rarely does someone get out of the gate without some sort of mistakes, bumps, or setbacks; it’s part of the process. It doesn’t matter whether you’re learning to code or cook, taking up photography or pole dancing (don’t laugh, it’s really difficult!) Improvement and understanding take time. You’ve got to expect, and be willing to be crappy for awhile, knowing that failures or setbacks at the beginning is normal, and in many cases, needed.

“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” ― Dale Carnegie

Fear is also a normal component of any learning curve. Especially when you’re putting your ass or your ego on the line. “Am I good enough?” “Is my idea stupid? “Will anyone ever buy this product?” We all want and hope to be good, but being good requires being bad long enough to learn the skills, techniques, and tricks to finally get good. And it can be humbling process. Failing sucks. And sometimes it hurts.

I should know. I’ve accomplished a lot in my time on earth. But it hasn’t come without its failures, mishaps, and injuries. I’ve scuba dived to 160 feet and learned to fly an airplane, I’ve earned black belts in 3 martial arts, I’ve been a competitive dancer, I’ve raced cars and taught high performance driving. I’m very athletic and coordinated, but there are just some things I suck at, always have and always will.

I don’t play tennis. Picture that same gawky ostrich on a tennis court chasing a silly little ball. I can’t golf either. I went to a driving range and hit the ground twice while swinging the club and sprained two fingers. I can’t ride a skateboard — I sprained my ankle as a kid because my body just doesn’t know how to move like that. I quit snowboarding after my first lesson — I fell on my tailbone so many times I thought I’d paralyzed myself. I suck at those things and I’m okay with that.

I’d always been attracted to motorcycles, the sexy crotch rocket types, but thought I’d kill myself in the first year so I never tried.

One day I was at a race track doing some testing with cars and there were motorcycle racers there. I watched with envy as they slid their bodies from side to side, hanging off at what seemed like impossible angles, and I thought it was so cool.

I asked one of the racers to teach me. I started on a small bike, then moved up to a race bike the next day on a race track. It was awesome!!!

Even though I’d earned my motorcycle license I’d never ridden on the street. It’s a whole different world out there.

On-going training, in many endeavors, is not only necessary, but required. The more potentially dangerous the sport, the more important advanced skills become.

I have a friend who’s an amateur photographer. She started out just taking pictures around her property, but in order to improve, she knew she needed to learn new skills. So she takes classes and goes on photography expeditions with teachers. Those new skills created the need to learn editing software, so more classes and more practice. It never stops, and that’s the point. Learning should never stop. There are always new things to learn and improve on

“Once you stop learning you start dying.” ― Albert Einstein

The skills and information taught in a basic motorcycle class teach you only what you need to know to get a motorcycle driver’s license. These skills are nowhere adequate enough to ride on the road with cars and trucks. The training is minimal and the level of potential danger requires additional training and constant practice. I didn’t have enough of either.

One day coming home from a ride I was turning into my driveway, going no more than 2 mph. I made a right turn and hit the front brake too hard. It’s such a newbie move, but unless someone teaches you this, or you experience it for yourself, you will never learn. The bike jerked to a stop and immediately started to fall over. The angle of the bike and the speed with which the bike was falling did not allow me to move my leg, and my only option other than having a 400 pound metal monster fall on me was to hold the bike and slow the fall… as it tore my hamstring off my butt bone. The pain was excruciating and I laid down in the street next to my bike as people drove by. No one stopped.

It was weeks before I could walk without a limp or pain, but I got back on that bike long before my leg was healed. There aren’t words to describe how scared I was, other than to say I was almost crying the entire ride, but I didn’t let that stop me. I had to conquer that bike, and my fear. The second ride wasn’t much better, but I kept on trying and I kept sucking, but I didn’t let that stop me.

I needed more skills, I just didn’t know where or how to get them. Sometime later, a friend went riding with me and saw how sucky my riding skills were. He saw that I lacked the skill and confidence to safely and comfortably handle the machine and recommended a class with a riding coach. I’m so grateful he did. I jumped at the opportunity and have taken several classes over the last couple of years. My skills, abilities, and confidence have skyrocketed, but I couldn’t have accomplished this success without sucking up my ego and acknowledging that I needed help and further training.

“Do not judge me by my successes; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” ― Nelson Mandela

Life is like that. You try something new. You like it, it intrigues you, but you suck. So you try some more, and maybe have a little success, but you know you still suck. So you apply yourself, finding new opportunities to learn and improve, and slowly, with dedication, you do. There still may be some sucky patches, but the more you learn and the more you practice the better you get. That, in turn, builds confidence, which creates more success. So give yourself the chance to suck. It just may change your life.

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