Food for thought

Master of None: Why You Need to Do Things You Suck At

By July 16, 2020 No Comments

What would you do if you knew you could never fail?

You’ve probably heard this question before, but I want you to sit with it.

(If you feel like you’ve heard this before, you can also check out the podcast where we sat down and talked about this same topic HERE.)

Sometimes the answer isn’t lots of big things like owning or opening a business, but little things that seem small but completely alter our day to day life and how we see ourselves. When we tell ourselves enough that since we can’t win so we might not as well try, we deprive ourselves of a lot of growth and a whole lot of joy.

Have you not picked up an instrument because you know you’ll never be good enough to start a band? Have you avoided coming to a gym like Roux because you don’t want to look like you don’t know what you’re doing? Have you missed out on talking to someone you could have shared a friendship or something deeper with because you don’t think it’s going to work out, so you just don’t try?

You may be the outlier, but I would say that all of us have at some point in our lives, allowed the fear of failure or the fear of not being able to be the best get in our way. 

And it starts to sound ridiculous when you put it like that. When, at any point in your life, are you or can you expect to be the master of everything you do?

There’s a reason some of us are doctors and some of us are musicians. Why some of us are chefs and some of us burn toast. Our brains work differently, we desire and prioritize different things. We have to. That’s what makes our world what it is.

And I bet that a lot of the things you avoid and the projects you don’t start “look fun” but since you know you won’t be very good at it, you never start.

As a kid, I took piano lessons. I struggled with reading music. While I loved music, making it with an instrument seemed so hard to me. Every missed note drove me crazy. Instead of just practicing and enjoying the process and learning from the mistakes, I never practiced and would show up to my lessons no better than the week before. I loved making music, but since I knew I sucked at it, I didn’t even try. 

Now, as an adult, I wish I would have kept it up. Missed notes and all. I love music, I don’t have to be the best at playing it to love it. And missing notes or hitting a sharp instead of a flat doesn’t mean I love to play any less. 

As an adult, I can do better. I can learn from this. I can try new things and learn to be OK with totally sucking at something. And maybe that means that I will pick up piano again or one day, create an environment for my family where my kids feel that they can do the things they love, even if they suck at it.

I challenge you to ask yourself a hard question. When was the last time you did something, and put your whole heart into it, even though you knew you would suck? If the answer is “never” or “not in a very, very long time,” now is the time to try it again.

The life of Florence Foster Jenkins, a wealthy society figure in the 1930s and 1940s, and possibly the worst singer in history, illustrates this perfectly. 

Despite her complete inability to sing on-key, Jenkins performed regularly for more than 40 years, mostly in private performances and finally, in the last months of her life, at Carnegie Hall. All her performances, including that last one, were given in front of sold-out crowds: She was so exquisitely bad, and so flamboyantly out there in both her performances and her costumes, that she unwittingly created priceless comic theater.

She didn’t sort of sing, she didn’t act shy or self-conscious, she tackled the most challenging arias there are, and she wore lavish costumes of her own design while doing it. Jenkins devoted her whole life to her badly-sung music and she didn’t do things by half-measures. Neither should any of us.

While I’m not suggesting you should build your career around something you’re laughably bad at, all of us can benefit from regularly doing things we’re terrible at. What will you do?

“People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing,” Jenkins once remarked. Wouldn’t it be great if they could say that about all of us?



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