It's hard to be good at something without first being bad at it

MeditationsJul 2021

Most of our upbringing is rooted in a dynamic where our learning about the world around us is mediated by adult approval. We learn what to do and not do through our caregiver’s acceptancing of it. As a result, doing something badly must be encoded in some primal part of our brain as something to avoid. By the time we become adults, it’s ingrained in the very foundation of who we are.

Most likely, we’re not raised to know or appreciate the value of being able to be bad at something. Unless we had a parent able to distill this nuance for us, most of us grew up not knowing how to be bad at something and it being ok.

But, in an adult world, a world of sophisticated skills and abilities, there’s virtually no way to become good at something without traversing through the desert of being bad at it and not having a clue. You can’t become really fit without first being a schlub, you can’t be a great programmer without first being embarrassingly bad at it, you can’t become a talented artist without first making bad drawings.

My intuition, here, is that grit, hustle, persistence, are qualities rooted in this idea, in this ability to override the primal instinct to want to be accepted, validated, and good. Overriding it with a new kind of ability to be bad at it and it being OK. Being embarassingly bad, asking dumb questions, seeming unintelligent; until, little by little, step by step, bird by bird, it all starts to come together..

This is the antithesis of ‘Oh, he was just always so talented’; it’s the discovery that everyone who has ever done something well started, first, by doing it not well at all.

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