I have this problem. Maybe it's a personality flaw, maybe it's a byproduct of being an adult. Whatever it is, it's an issue that I find incredibly annoying as I find that it frequently gets in the way of the things I want to do.
I don't like being bad at things.
Okay, so no one likes being bad at things. At least, I don't imagine they do. There are things I am certainly categorically bad at, like video games, which I do not mind. But it isn't that I enjoy being bad. I just don't particularly care about being good, even though being good at them might technically make them more enjoyable.
But I'm getting off topic.
I really struggle with being bad at things.
I'm at a point in my life where I'm far enough into adulthood that I have a pretty good, though not perfect, idea of what I like and what I want to do. This idea has some to do with what I genuinely enjoy and some to do with things I know I'm good at. I've gotten comfortable with my hobbies and my career. I know I am good at this thing.
And that's somehow also the problem. I know I'm good at this, whatever this actually is, but this isn't all I want to do. But if I try something new, I might suck at it. I'm comfortable with incremental growth and improvement, of course. I am willing to move up in my career, to apply for the promotion, to ask for more responsibility. But those are slow, predetermined moves in a game I know by heart. It's much more difficult to learn something totally new, or to take a leap into something that, though somewhat familiar, is nevertheless an entirely new experience.
This idea struck me the first time over the summer when I was trying to teach myself to skateboard, something I never managed to commit to as a teenager, despite being the kind who definitely would have been a skater ... if I'd ever learned how. I was starting this new hobby from absolutely nothing. The last time I'd stepped foot on a board was when I was in high school more than 12 years earlier and here I was, nearly 30, trying to teach myself.
And reader, I was bad.
I didn't fall off the skateboard, due in large part to the fact that I never put myself into a position to fall off. I would go just fast enough to get some distance but not so fast as to possibly lose control because, as I mentioned, I was almost 30. My body just wasn't going to bounce back the way it used to.
I did this for about an hour or two, hanging out with a friend who was also trying to learn and was similarly terrible. We did this a few times over the next couple weeks and I did improve, however slightly. I went from barely being able to stand on the board to being able to push off pretty consistently to almost being able to just keep going down the pavement, all without falling! With each new feat, the experience became more enjoyable ... for a time. Inevitably, though, there was the moment when I realized that I'd been trying to move on to the next piece and just couldn't crack it. In those moments, I realized that I sucked at this. And when you suck, it's just not fun anymore.
It's interesting to think about the way you approached new things as a kid. It was easy to keep going back, keep practicing, because when you know nothing, when you suck at everything, there's nowhere to go but up. You can only get better, and you've gotta do something so you might as well do this.
When you're an adult, it takes a lot to keep going when you are objectively terrible. It's hard to remember that at one point you were just as bad at everything. You weren't born knowing how to read, or write, or do theoretical physics. You learned. You practiced. You got better. Malcolm Gladwell says you have to do something for 10,000 hours to be an expert. That is an enormous amount of hours. And those first few, when you're first learning the basics in order to make the thing you're doing enjoyable enough to make it worth that kind of commitment, are the longest and the hardest and the most impossible.
The first 100 hours are a thousand times more challenging than the last 100. Near the end you can see the finish. But at the beginning? At the beginning you can barely conceive of an ending at all.
Then again, the second 100, and the third, and the fourth, and all the ones in the middle where you know just enough to know how much you don't know, those are the ones where time and progress stop.
And that is where I seem to be with so many things.
Specifically, it is where I feel I am with writing. I have ideas -- so many ideas -- but they are for big projects with big swings and a huge commitment of time, and perhaps far more so, emotional energy. I want to write a book or a screenplay or a comic but in all of these mediums the idea that your first attempt will be something that actually manifests into the final product you imagine is just so far from likely. Your first book will probably not be the first manuscript you wrote. It probably won't be the fourth. Same for your first screenplay or comic or whatever creative project you want to create.
But the ideas I am most interested in pursuing are the ones I couldn't bear to learn have no market, no audience. I would be okay learning that a project I didn't really love wasn't going to happen, but the idea of writing something I know will likely be bad just to get the experience of writing it in the first place equally horrifies and bores me.
I love this project, and because I love it it is the only thing I want to work on. But because I love it, it cannot be my first project. Because it cannot suck.
I really don't like to suck.
So instead, I stagnate. Learning new things is hard because being bad at something is boring and frustrating and not very good for your self esteem. It's the same for moving on to the next thing, the next step or stage or evolution or what have you. It's not brand new, but it's new enough. You could be good at it. But it's far more likely that you'll suck, at least for a little while.
Can you give yourself permission to suck? Can I?