You're Allowed to Suck: A Lesson in Trying New Things
written by regular contributor, douglas humphries
As a society, I’m pleased to see that we are more comfortable with the idea that you don’t have to be good at something right at the start in order to do it. We’re embracing the idea of letting ourselves practice, of trying and failing, but ultimately moving past it to become better. We’re also coming around to the idea that you don’t have to be the best at something in order to do it. You can be, dare I say, mediocre, and you’re still allowed to enjoy it.
But what we haven’t accepted is that you can completely suck at it and you’re still allowed to do it.
This, like a lot of things, isn’t something we really say out loud. It’s just sort of understood. You can try anything. We live in a world that, largely, allows you to try most anything. But there’s an understanding, subconscious, running through all of it, that if you eventually figure out that you have no talent for a thing, you stop. In fact, you should stop, because it’s embarrassing.
Think back to childhood. How many of us took art classes? Music classes? How many kids nowadays take martial arts or gymnastics or play a sport in their free time? Lots, I would say.
How many adults do?
Why is that? Why do we stop? Because there seems to be an understanding that kids are allowed to try new things. But, at a certain point, they stop. Why? Because they’re not any good at it.
When I was a kid, I drew. All the time. My favorite gift was an empty sketchbook. And, while I was probably moderately talented at best, what was great about it is that I could do it with no prompting. Give me a blank sheet of paper and I would just fill it. It took no effort, no hesitation.
Now, though, I have a sketchbook that’s barely half-filled, because every time I start, every time I put pencil to page I can’t do it. I can’t draw, and I know why. It’s because sometime around middle school, (oh, middle school), I figured out I wasn’t going to be all that good at it. So, I stopped. Like so many other people. And, in doing so, I cut myself off from something that brought me joy, a creative, constructive outlet, that kept my brain and imagination sharp.
And that’s the saddest part.
In focusing on being good, I robbed myself of the pure enjoyment of it.
Yes, most kids aren’t going to grow up to be famous artists, or athletes, or ballet dancers. Most aren’t likely to be even all that talented at the various things they are doing. But why should that stop them from doing them? Especially if it enriches their lives?
I’m reminded of a story from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, where she talks about a friend of hers that rediscovered figure skating in her 40’s. She gets up every morning and goes to skate for an hour. Why? Because she enjoys it. She’s not training for an event; she’s not competing. But she loves it, so she skates. She dedicates time to something for no other reason than it enriches her life.
What if we had had the same determination as kids? How many years could we have had with the things that make us come alive if we simply allowed ourselves the simple pleasure of enjoying them, regardless of whether or not we were any good?
Look, no one likes sucking at something. We all want to do our best. But “best” is a relative term.
You can still enjoy something and not be all that good at it.
If we allow ourselves to suck, we still get the enjoyment. Moreover, if we allow ourselves to not be any good, we might have the space to learn and become good.
But, and this is the important part, even if we NEVER get better, we’re still allowed to do it. We’re still allowed to enjoy it.
You are allowed to enjoy the things you enjoy, regardless of your talent. If I’m the first person to ever tell you that, I’m truly sorry, but it’s true. You are allowed to suck.
So go. Try. Suck. Get as good at it as you can. But enjoy it all the while.
That alone is enough of a reason to do it.
Douglas Humphries is a full-time creative, part-time vagabond. Words have always been his primary creative interest, but, in large part thanks to #createlounge, he's learning to pursue the multifaceted nature of his own creativity and help others pursue their own. He's a NaNoWriMo enthusiast and recently self-published a memoir about the Book of Jeremiah called Fire In My Bones. But, if you’re really good, he might tell you more about his Harry Potter fan-fiction novel.