3 ways to reframe what you’re bad at
You’d love to be a good writer, great speaker, singer, painter – but you think you’re not, and it makes you sigh sometimes; because there is an impulse – to write that story, create that piece, that thing that would represent the deeper expression you’re yearning for, the next courageous move into the version of you that’s calling – if only you were better at speaking, singing, painting, …
When the craft or skill we don’t master stands in the way of our desired expression, the easiest option is to give up. It’s just too frustrating, and we’re not these willpower Bruce Lee, Jean-Claude Van Damme kind of people who do it anyways, are we? Well, I don’t think you have to be.
You can push through your obstacles with the soft gaze and vulnerability of a fluffy puppy if that sounds like you – the only thing you need though is an attitude towards your weaknesses that is constructive. And that’s what I’m here to talk about today.
We don’t abandon a writer’s path just because it’s too frustrating to learn how to create suspense or compelling characters; I believe what makes us give up is dealing with a whole set of deep fears in the process nobody has warned us about: the fear of not being enough, not belonging, being inadequate,… all the hard stuff.
If someone came to you from the future with a solid prophecy (presenting you newspaper articles and awards with your name engraved) that you are to be one of the most iconic piano players of all times if you’d just kept practicing, I’m certain that you’d have no problem with being a total loser for months, even years – you’d push through anyways. Because you’d have the certainty of someone who knows they have their place.
What makes us give up is not about how long it takes or how difficult it is to learn the thing, it’s about who we think we’re being and whether or not we feel we belong. I believe we quit the moment when, as beginners, we’re no longer willing to deal with not knowing if we’ll ever be good enough to be part of the group of cool people we aspire to belong to (writers, knitters, you name it). And that’s the main thing we need to address in our survival strategy. We need to shift our perception around having our place, all without a prophecy.
Make your incapacities proof that you’re in the game, not out of the game.
I want to help you with that perception, by changing the way you relate to the very fact that you are “bad” at this thing. Because it’s your argument to give up, each and every time. But it shouldn’t be. I want you to make your incapacities proof that you’re in the game, not out of the game. Sounds like a stretch? Stay with me.
I’ve felt inadequate and not belonging in countless occasions, including every single time I started out in a new country and language I didn’t master. Standing in the midst of a gathering and being the only one not getting a word feels more like standing outside the gathering, in the cold, and watching all these people having the best time ever through the fogged up window. No access to the party, to the jokes, references, community, despite great effort. And that could have led me to do what many foreigners are doing that I meet along the way: Giving up, and never even trying to learn the local language; instead finding ways to sideline that awkward feeling of exclusion and inadequacy. And I understand: isn’t that the temptation each time we’re confronted with the challenge of acquiring new skills: to collapse and hide in a bubble of refusal, comfort, smallness?
But over the years I adopted an attitude that made me push trough the hard moments and succeed, not just in learning languages but in various endeavours where I had to push through my weaknesses to make progress. And I’d love to share 3 main aspects of that attitude that you can apply to whatever you’d wish to get better in – and go for it. Ready?
1 – Your “weakness” is a strength in disguise
Why is it exactly that you think you’re bad at this thing – speaking, photography, dancing… What makes you think so? Of course: You see others do it – amazingly – and you think: “I can’t do that.”
But what is the ‘that’?!
My bet is: you’re perceiving a flow, sophistication, finesse, excellence – something that resonates for you and leaves you in awe. Even if you can’t name it quite yet, you perceive what their mastery is made of – you see the direct or subtler aspects of what it takes to be good at it. I can’t tell you how many times I saw people wanting to give up on something that I knew they’re gifted at – just because they see that special something others master and they get too frightened of never being able to get there.
But I want you to own your capacity of perceiving excellence. Because not everyone does. It’s proof of your own potential.
Seeing the gap between where you’re at compared to those you admire is the first step towards mastery.
People who have no sense for art say: “Jackson Pollock?! That’s just dirt thrown at a canvas. I can do that too… and make Millions!” But there are fewer who perceive a massive gap between his level of mastery and the level they’re at. Believe it or not, seeing the gap between where you’re at compared to those you admire is the first step towards mastery.
Why? Because we perceive only what reflects something that exists within us. If you admire something highly developed in somebody’s craft or ability and it sparks an impulse in you that later turns into regret when you say “ugh, I can’t do that”, you should not turn away but get in the game.
The reason that makes you think you’re not good enough is the very sensitivity that would guide you like a compass into your version of excellence – should you dare to own it and trust it and start practicing, despite initial frustration, discomfort, all the things we’re confronted with as beginners. Make the gap not mean that you’re doomed, but that you know where you’re going.
2 – You Might already have what it takes – but need to change arena
You probably know that English is a foreign language to me; you probably don’t know that while I’m typing this, I’m already a little embarrassed about possible mistakes I’m making without even noticing. Which is ridiculous – I can transmit my message even with flawed vocabulary and grammar; but well: I’m expecting more of me! I’m expecting my English to be as fabulous as my German. It will never be. Whenever I feel ridiculous, I remind myself: Breathe… not going for the Literature Nobel Price!
I’ve been posting more on social media lately (please join me!!) and I’m learning that simplicity is an asset anyways if I want to reach people. The other day I heard an expert point out that to speak to the larger public, things should be written so a fifth grader can understand it. “I can do that!”, I thought.
What I’m saying is: You might have exactly what it takes to show up in the field that calls you even though you consider yourself as “not good enough” – you might simply need to adapt the arena you’re playing in, at least for some time. In many occasions less is more – but even when more is more: how could you aim a little lower for starters, or a few inches left or right where you are able to leverage your current level? Don’t let unrealistic or rigid expectations stop you from showing up and giving to the world from where you are and from what you have available right here, right now.
3 – Your “incapacity” might lead to a surprising capacity
You know how blind people hear better than anyone else? I want you to zoom out a little bit and make room for the unexpected in your journey of lacking and learning skills.
So, I’ve lived in countries where I wasn’t fluent in the native language. Not understanding people felt like missing one of my senses, especially as a writer who has built a big part of my identity on being able to say words… And yet, with years going through that experience again and again, I haven’t just eventually succeeded in learning the languages – I haven’t just gotten faster in learning languages in general (it gets easier each time); I also developed a “surprise capacity”.
Not understanding what people say, I learned to ‘get’ them beyond words. I developed my intuitive skills. Today I catch your mood, attitude, level of presence, and all kinds of things the moment you step into the room, long before you say a word. That wasn’t intended. I don’t always enjoy it. But it came as a byproduct of lacking language skills, and I consider it as one of my most precious gifts today.
Sometimes I wonder: what if it never actually is about the success we’re going for, but about what life has planned to teach us along the way? How can we even judge what is success or failure?
something far more beautiful and complex than what you can imagine right now.
I don’t know what will happen with my flawed skills. I don’t know what will happen with your flawed skills. But I saw enough to trust that we can’t let a perceived weakness keep us from something that’s calling us. Integrate all the embarrassing mistakes, faceplants, feelings of foreignness into your endeavour, into a wider picture of success and evolution that leaves room for what you don’t know yet. It all adds up to something precious, I promise you. Something far more beautiful and complex than what you can imagine right now.
your greatest gift to the world is who you become on the way
Take advice from an expert in “foreignness”: Being a stranger to a country, language, craft, ability in whatever way is challenging. But the invitation is perspective. Don’t focus on the embarrassment, focus on what awaits you beyond, and lean in, one day at a time. You’ll work yourself through the foreignness into belonging to, maybe even into creating a whole new discipline – an entirely unique contribution.
Talent is general. Obstacles are individual.
By the way, what is a unique contribution really made of? Talent is general. Obstacles are individual. What we overlook is that it’s the process of overcoming our personal incapacities, of transforming our completely unique set of circumstances and challenges through which we refine – not just our craft, but our personality.
What makes our contribution unique is not our skills, but the story that made us acquire them, the person we had to become on the way of stretching our limits and putting one foot in front of the other in an area we completely suck at but yearn to be better in. The contribution is you.
And I can’t wait to see you showing up with this thing you’re so incredibly bad at – but that you need to do anyways.
See the gap as proof that you know where you’re going.
Adapt your arena if you need to.
Trust what life has planned for you through the process.
And let me know how that feels.
Enjoyed this? Feel free to share with whoever might, too – and go here to say hello to me in my very fresh and already so lovely IG community, THE ACTUAL SHE! Seriously, I can’t wait to see you there. xx
Image: Guilherme Colosio // Unsplash