When was the last time you threw your whole-heart and passion into something you knew you would be awful at? And when I say awful I mean fall-flat-on-your-face-so-hard-you’d-become-a-viral-meme-on-the-internet awful. Not any time recently? Don’t blame you, not many people are willing to dedicate time and enthused energy into imminent failure.
I’m a career-focussed woman: all my energies and hobbies are tailored towards either personal or professional growth. I spend my spare-time researching productivity methods, reading books, writing articles and video scripts to improve my writing. I learn French, study graphic design and I have spent many months trying to wrap my head around finances and financial investment (a topic which makes me feel painfully naive).
However, up until last year, very little of my life was dedicated to anything non-work related. That was until one day I decided to adopt one non-essential hobby. I started dancing. Truth be told, reader, I suck at it.
I suck majorly.
I leave most classes suppressing tears of agony from the embarrassment branded on my cheeks. I never realised how inadequate I was at simultaneously moving my arms and legs until this point in life, let alone moving my feet in different directions and in different angles in accordance with rapid-fire beats.
I look around in panic as the class of much younger, prettier and slimmer girls around me adopt the movements with ease and grace whilst I fumble and immediately forget every move after it has passed the instructor’s lips. My body doesn’t seem to do anything their’s can, particularly my feet How the hell are they remembering this? I ask myself every week, close to tears Am I totally stupid?!
There I am, fumbling away, watching my dance teacher’s face grow increasingly frustrated in the mirror: you know you’re bad when your dance teacher takes personal offence to you butchering her routine. I became so humiliated that I stopped looking at my reflection altogether during classes and focus on the shiny floor that somehow only I can’t slide and glide over (my shoes seem to get stuck and buffer my performance).
Yet despite this ever-evolving humiliation, personal scoldings and ageing grace (I’m still in my twenties, dear lord, that’s how out of touch I am in my class), I’ve never missed a class. Sure, I burst into tears during my first ever class, but that was only because my dance teacher asked each dancer to dance solo in front of everyone whilst she filmed them on her phone to upload onto her Instagram. Having never danced hip-hop before that day, I think my response was proportionately appropriate in such circumstance.
I doubt very much that there will ever be a day when I don’t suck at dancing. I’ll never be one of those pretty, young, famous Instagram stars who upload clips of themselves to trend on the front page.
Does going to dance class get me closer to my end goal of being successful in life?
Do these classes advance my career as a freelance copywriter and editor?
Do these classes help my youtube channel or my book?
The answer to all of these questions is, obviously, no. But I do it anyway. Why?
Because I learned about the importance of sucking the hard way.
Back in my days of perfectionism, I never pushed myself into anything I wasn’t reasonably comfortable I would be successful in. For someone with low self-esteem, I still had a sense of confidence in certain aspects of my life such as acting, drawing and public speaking. Reading, however, was hard. Too hard. Any time we had to read aloud in class I died inside with humiliation. I knew I wasn’t a strong reader so I never read outside of class (bar a few favourites which I continued to read and re-read out of comfort and security).
After discovering that I had read Holes for the eleventh time, one of my English teachers mocked me for being an “unread student” who was “too into” her “cartoon doodles to truly understand what literature was”. Fast forward fourteen years later and I’m an MSc English literature postgraduate who’s spent the past nine years of her life uploading literary theory videos and book reviews to Youtube.
No thanks to unkind and unobservant teachers, I spent my entire academic life as an undiagnosed Dyslexic. My deep-seated fear of being bad at reading held me back for years of my life. It wasn’t until I finally dared myself to start reading for fun (at age sixteen) that I discovered my life purpose was to be a reader and drown myself in books.
Now, don’t get it twisted. I’m not saying that I expect my dancing to evolve into a new life purpose like my discovery of books did. But what I am saying is that doing something you’re bad at, purely for the passion of doing it, will have benefits.
1. It’s Good to Remember You Can’t Have it All
We’re all drowning in a sea of digital perfectionism. How can there be so many people in this world who run multi-million-dollar companies, have investments in numerous properties, have several college degrees from elite academic institutions whilst also being super fit and healthy, good-looking, super lovely and grounded with a lovely, happy family? Oh, and they’ve written and published several books, run a successful podcast series and seem to always go to the most interesting places without ever ageing!
The internet and media, in general, make us believe we can have it all. Intelligence, good looks, brawn, successful start-ups, high-flying careers, happiness and talent because we never see other people failing (we only ever hear about their past failures in their New York Times bestselling autobiography).
Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking I can have it all. That everything I do can become something greater, that everything I put my mind to can become an outstanding part of who I am when, in truth, it can’t and, most importantly, shouldn’t have to.
Being bad at something is an absolutely valid part of being human. It doesn’t detract from our worth, from our competency or our overall significance. So what if I’m bad at something? Provided it’s not harming anyone (like an organisation or person), it’s as valid a part of my existence and experience as anything else I do.
There’s a lot of talk about the benefits of failure and what we can all learn from failing. But you may be better off failing at something other than your main job. Tackling something you’re bad at that isn’t essential for your work is a great way to practice failing without damaging your career. Literally getting back on the horse after falling off (and once breaking my arm in a particularly clumsy fall) helped me learn some important lessons about how to bounce back.
2. You Can Only Learn What You Don’t Know
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a million times: failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of it. Now, before you start arguing that being bad at something consistently for a long time isn’t “being successful” then I challenge you to define success.
Spoiler: you can’t.
Success is defined subjectively; whilst becoming an amazing and famous hip-hop dancer may be your idea of a successful outcome of having attended many classes, my idea of success is maintaining a steady workout regime that I enjoy (in an albeit somewhat masochistic way) for an extensive period of time. By my standard of success, I don’t have to become good at dancing to be successful. I’m not here to become great at something, I’m here to get a little better, learn some techniques I never knew, confront my strengths and weaknesses and improve my fitness.
3. It Teaches You to Stop Giving a F**k
I spent far too much of my life giving too many f**ks. F**ks drain you of energy, esteem and confidence. They drag you through pits of anxiety, hopelessness and despair to the point that many of us are so ashamed of who we are we feel embarrassed for even existing.
We’re embarrassed about our looks, voice, opinions, habits, interests and thoughts. Just f**k them all. Life is too short and our energy and focus are too limited to keep giving f**ks out like Tic-Tacs. Make a fool of yourself now and then: who really gives a f**k? You.
Stop debilitating yourself and just own it. Own that you’re an imperfect person and f**k anyone who judges you for it. When you do something you suck at, you’re going to look foolish: so doing something you know you will suck as is a perfect way to rid yourself of your paranoia and self-consciousness. Maybe it’s the experience of being humiliated every week, or maybe it’s the hard rap we dance to. Either way, I’m grateful for the fewer f**ks I give since starting to suck in dance class.
4. What Comfort Zone?
This is a little hard for me to write about because, well, I’ve never felt comfortable in a comfort zone (perhaps that’s more to do with a dodgy upbringing after which I convolutedly associated chaos and negativity with love and affection but…that’s a story for another day). But I’ve seen a lot of people in my life just happy being comfortable and living in that comfort. They sink into it like a big bean bag and nestle themselves down for a lifetime: have the same job (even if they’re unhappy in it), go to the same restaurants, see the same people, visit the same places, do the same things.
As Neale Donald Walsch said: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” People are far too willing to let their skill set determine what they do and what they try in life.
Start seeing what your body can do, where your mind can take you, how the world can change you, how perspectives can transform you.
Do you really know your limits from the security of your comfort zone?
Can you ever gauge your potential when you set your own limits years ago?
“Oh god, you go to hip-hop classes?” people say to me “You’d never catch me trying that. I’d be awful!”
“Never stopped me,” I reply.