The Joys of Being Bad at Things

Right now, I’m bad at just about everything I do in life. A true amateur. I’ll concede and say I’m a medium poet, but every time I look at a poem or meet with a mentor, I gain a new epiphany on how I should have done something, how I’m approaching things all wrong, and am almost overcome with grief seeing the long road ahead of me in the one thing I feel adequate doing. My prose is still very much struggling, but the birds perched by my office window know I’m trying.

Don’t tell my editors, but I *may be* a horrible freelancer, because I am still learning so much about the job that is more than just tying sentences together with hooks and ribbons and metaphor. I’ve been taking online classes and reading tutorials and articles, following blogs and newsletters, and reaching out to everyone in my extended community of writers, editors, and smart people. The learning curve is steep, but I’ve got my crampons. I learned to take photographs as a kid, and was as set up for success as a kid could be, and even took a photography class in college. But in all my traveling, I didn’t keep up with my skills or the technology, and I’m again starting at square one, learning tricks new and old to get myself back on par with what’s needed to be a successful photographer, even if just for my own enjoyment or for supplementing my articles.

I’m not very good at hanging posters because, while I certainly get the job done, I’m multitasking, stopping to write a poem or collect my thoughts, email with editors or read an article on freelancing I remember I bookmarked; it takes me longer than it possibly should, because my brain is going in many directions at all times. I’ve been a bike mechanic since 2002, but taking five years off the bench has set me back considerably and I’m in a stage of learning the new developments in components and tools, and remembering how to do things that used to be second nature. Luckily, my first bike shop taught me the transcendent rule of “first, do no harm” that I think was an old politician saying or something (kidding…) but it certainly applies to asking for help prior to cracking the head tube of a $3,000 frame.

I’m not good at boxing; I just had my first *real* boxing class at Wolfpack Boxing Club in Carnegie, PA. It was really enlightening regarding how poor my form has been, especially considering that I’ve been boxing right-handed and I’m a southpaw. While in sports I am fairly ambidextrous, being left-handed is pretty advantageous because it’s harder to intuit what a southpaw is going to do and how the punch, ball, or puck is going to fly. But there is excitement in learning how to do it right. I want to be able to throw a good, proper punch without injuring myself. I want to become faster and stronger. I like feeling myself becoming physically more in control of my body, as it does what I tell it to do.

I’m also not a very good cook, truth be told. I can follow recipes, put recipes together, and make some good eats, but I don’t have the intuition that some home chefs have, including my husband. The main problem is that I’m satisfied eating peanut butter and jelly every day and swinging back a protein shake and some fruit, so the motivation is entirely nutritional, and ask any chronic dieter how well that works out in the long run. The positive of this is that I know that if there’s a recipe I try and I can make it work, then I know it’s really quality. It’s been truly vetted by the messy and improperly stocked kitchen, and by the messy and unfocused chef herself.

I’m also not a good bass player. I started taking lessons in 2012 or 2013 at Backstage Guitars, and stopped for almost a year, due to back problems I needed to address lack of motivation. Assembling a band with my friends Amy and Becca has been the single most helpful way to become better at playing, better at listening, and more comfortable pressing out of my comfort level to figure out new sounds (though they’d both probably agree that my go-to sound is just “fast”). As a band, we have common goals and projects that span beyond a vague sense of becoming adequate at something, beyond lessons and scales and finger exercises. We were all new to our instruments, and in the spirit of bravery, we booked and played our first show last week. We had a huge turnout and the response was overwhelmingly supportive. Our good friend Matt Dayak took some photos and played drums on our final song so Amy could get up front and sing/scream her tenacious heart out.

The Joy of Being Bad at Things
Reign Check’s first show, photo © Matt Dayak 2015
The Joy of Being Bad at Things
Reign Check’s first show, photo © Matt Dayak 2015
The Joy of Being Bad at Things
Reign Check’s first show, photo © Matt Dayak 2015

Matt recently resigned from his day job to fulfill his own dreams of working for himself, utilizing all of his many talents: photography, videography, design, carpentry, and general “good dude”ness. One of my favorite projects of his is called An Agreeable Sound. This one is my favorite, because is features my friend and bandmate Amy Garbark.

Anyway, my point in all this is that my life is up in the air and full of uncertainty. I’m surrounded by people who are also reaching for their own dreams and stepping into the murky waters of happiness and self-fulfillment. And I could not be more honored, excited, and grateful for this life of mine. I used to have a fear of failure, and I think that’s something to which many people can relate. I’m not afraid of death, but the scorn and ridicule of those who are better than me, or see themselves as better than me, was enough to make me not try. It’s as stupid as it sounds, living my life in fear of not being immediately good at something. I’ve always been a fair poet, and in contrast was *so bad* at everything else I wanted to learn. But bit by bit, I tore down that wall, and with each risk I further realized the joy in being bad at something. Being bad at something takes away the pressure to be good at it immediately. Once we are able to accept that we don’t know things (because really, so few of us know anything, no matter how well we fake it), the easier it is to learn, experiment, and have fun gaining new skills and perspectives. How foolish it is to expect to be good at something immediately, with so little effort! How short-sighted to not put in the effort of feeling uncomfortable in order to become good! I love being bad at things, now. I love putting myself out there and testing my own waters.

I say this, because I realize the response from so many of you readers is one of two things:

  1. Girl, what are you doing? You cannot just drop your life and live one of adventure and instability? What about bills, security, the future?
  2. I wish I was able to do what I want in life, but I don’t know how to XYZ and feel like I would simply perish.

To that I say, I DO WHAT I WANT. Translated out of my prepubescent angst, that means: There is a way to get the bills paid and not literally die on the side of the road, and I’ve been spending the past months and will spend the months ahead preparing for that transition. Nothing good is accomplished without hard work. Weighing the risk/reward of my relocation/unlocation, the risk is fairly low, considering the safety nets I’ve put in place for myself, emotionally, physically, and financially. This isn’t like that time I tried to ride my bike from Boston to Pittsburgh during a late July heatwave and an oncoming storm. I learned my lesson. I was bad at something (planning). I’m still bad at it, but I’m learning. Knowledge is half the battle, the other half is putting it to use.

And to that I say, Gain knowledge! Push your boundaries! Do you think that Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir knew what to expect as she sailed to North America as one of the earliest explorers? Did Gertrude Stein walk along forlorn, mimicking the steps set in front of her in concrete? Hell no. In 2015, we have the blessings of our pioneers, and even better, as an artist I know that everything has been done, so we need only to look at the variations, take what is helpful to us, applicable to our situation, needs, and dreams, and take flight. Screw up, and feel joy in it.

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  • Emma

    I love this! I have been working hard to learn how to be bad at things in the last few years too, so I can have an easier time approaching things with new learner eyes instead of why-aren’t-you-better-at-this judging eyes, because we all know that judgment or fear of judgment is the first obstacle to learning.

    Three cheers to learning to be bad at stuff! It’s so liberating!

    • It is indeed a skill (so maybe I’m slowly becoming good at being bad at things?) but yes, it is so liberating to accept the temporary failures in life and allow ourselves some slip ups and wiggle room!

  • May I ask, is Becca the same ‘Becca that works at BikePgh? thanks!

  • This was, hands down, the best thing I’ve read in a long time.

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