This past week, I strummed a banjo for the first time. I sounded like I was completely unfamiliar with the concept of “music.” Heck it took me an hour of messing around to learn this (and I’ve been playing the guitar for years!).
Last Wednesday, I had my first violin lesson, and it sounded slightly better the howl of an asthmatic alley cat.
When was the last time you did something you absolutely suck at, purely for enjoyment?
Today, I’m issuing a challenge. I want to see how much you can suck at something that you enjoy.
Today also happens to be the latest 6-Week Challenge on the NF Message Boards, and a perfect time to up the stakes.
Let’s all suck together! (Wait, that came out wrong.)
Why Doing Stuff You Suck at Matters.
Failing at something can be mentally crippling. We assume it’s a personification of who we are as people. “I failed, therefore I am a failure and a loser.”
Think of the last time we’ve told ourselves something like this:
- If we ask somebody out on a date and they reject us, then we are not good enough.
- If we attempt a new project at work and it doesn’t work, then I’m not a good employee.
- If we try to learn a new skill and we’re not good at it, then we are clumsy and wasting our time.
It’s much easier to stick with the things we’re kind of good at, or things that we can’t embarrass ourselves with…right?
I’ve written about the importance of failure before, and why failure is a crucial step in the path to growth, so I won’t dig into it too much today.
Instead, I want to talk about the importance of being absolutely terrible at something, and loving it.
We all have to start somewhere
We’re so afraid of being bad at something, and so ashamed at sharing something that we suck at, that we oftentimes pick the easier path…avoiding it!
We see people that are masters of a particular craft, and we only see that end result: level 50 mastery, perfection.
We tend to forget when they began that activity, they also sucked at it!
It was only because they enjoyed doing the activity so much, despite sucking at it, that they worked hard at getting “slightly less bad,” and then “not terrible,” followed by “just okay” before eventually it became “hey, pretty darn good.”
The good news about being absolutely terrible at something is that we can only get better at it, and every little victory or improvement shows us that like anything else, we WILL improve.
How far we have to go is not the point. The point is to get started and have fun:
- We could spend all day reading every book on becoming a better artist, when in reality we just need to get started by drawing terrible stick figure pictures.
- We could watch every youtube video on Parkour, but we just need to get outside, roll around in the dirt, and get banged up.
- We could study sheet music for decades, but until we mash the keys on a piano we’re never going to get better.
I wasn’t a great writer when I started Nerd Fitness.
In fact, I’d say I was less than mediocre. However, I spent nine months learning how to suck less at writing by publishing 90 articles in those nine months! Now, 600 articles later, I’d like to think that I’m slightly above average 🙂
The important part is getting started and being okay with sucking at something.
As Jonathan Fields says, “you need to make more bad stuff.”
We gotta have fun
I’m pretty sub-par at the guitar, not half bad at the piano, and a terrible singer.
However, over the past two months, I’ve leveled up in all three skills (from level 1 to level 1.5 or 2.0), because I was MORE THAN OKAY with sucking at each of them!
BECAUSE I ABSOLUTELY LOVE TO PLAY MUSIC!
Nothing makes me happier than playing along with some of my favorite songs (or struggling for weeks to learn how to play those songs).
My buddy Adam Moore comes over once a week and we have “band” practice for a few hours.
Now, Adam’s actually got talent – he used to be in a real band…and I try really hard. Because I’m having so much fun being not good, I don’t care that I’m not good! Thanks to the fact that I’m having so much fun, I’m actually getting
better less terrible!
On top of that, it’s making me happier, more creative, and more productive during the hours that I am working.
Remember when I talked about falling in love with the game?
In the fantastic book Drive, Daniel Pink discusses a study from the 1970s in which people were instructed to “act in a normal way, doing all the normal things you have to do, but not doing anything that is ‘play’ or ‘noninstrumental.’ In other words, he and his research team directed participants to scrub their lives of flow.
“People who liked aspects of their work had to avoid situations that might trigger enjoyment. People who relished demanding physical exercise had to remain sedentary. One woman enjoyed washing dishes because it gave her something constructive to do, along with time to fantasize free of guilt, but could wash dishes only when absolutely necessary.
“The results were almost immediate. Participants ‘noticed an increased sluggishness about their behavior.’ They began complaining of headaches. Most reported difficulty concentrating. Some felt sleepy, while others were too agitated to sleep.”
“The deterioration in mood was so advanced that prolonging the experiment would have been unadvisable.
“All of this happened within 48 hours.”
Life is too damn short, and there is scientific evidence that not spending time on things we enjoy each day can put us on the fast track to a miserable existence. We need to carve out time each day for spending time on things we truly enjoy.
Yes, even if we suck at it!
Because if we are spending time at something we enjoy (no matter how terrible we are), if we truly enjoy it, we’re making our lives better. On top of that, because we’re spending time on something we enjoy, we’re far more likely to get better at it too!
The “Do Something You Suck At” Challenge
I want you to pick something that you are absolutely abysmal at, and record a video of yourself trying that activity. After that, I want you to spend 5-10 minutes each day (whenever possible) working on that thing you suck at:
- Cooking? Make a bad meal TODAY!
- Drawing? Draw a crappy stick figure TONIGHT.
- Dancing? Dance around your apartment like an idiot IMMEDIATELY.
- Strength training? Do your first awkward push ups RIGHT NOW.
- Playing an instrument? Warn your neighbors first, and then be terrible.
And then work on it each day. I don’t care how much you suck now, or in a month, just that you picked something challenging that you enjoy, and that you suck less than before.
Just so you don’t feel left out, here’s a video of me playing violin at home the day after my first lesson. I apologize in advance for your ears 🙂
My goal is to work on playing the violin each day (hopefully more!) and record another video in six weeks. By then, I expect to be slightly less terrible!
Feel free to keep your video to yourself for the time being, share it in the comments below, or on our message boards.
Give it a chance. Suck at something! And then hopefully suck less at it in six weeks. Or not. Just make sure you’re having fun!
And join us on the NF Message Boards for the newest 6-Week Challenge! (Rules here)
Today’s Rebel Heroe: My buddy Pat Flynn, founder of the UBER successful SmartPassiveIncome.com, rocking his NF shirt after an epic run recently in Austin: