Is there something you always wished you could do? When I was kid, I wanted to fly. Not an airplane. Actually fly. Like Mary Poppins or Superman. I tried taking my umbrella outside in the wind and leaping off the neighbor’s embankment. I even convinced some other kids to try it with me.
But no matter how windy it was, and no matter how hard we tried, we were never able to fly.
I have to admit we didn’t try it that many times. My mother probably told me it wasn’t ever going to happen. That birds fly and Superman flies, but regular people don’t fly. And after a few attempts, I guess I believed her.
Have you ever had something you wanted to do so badly that you were willing to have it not work for a long time? That you were willing to be bad at before you were good? Or, as Ira Glass says, where your taste is better than your ability to create it?
Is there something you’re willing to work hard at, putting in hours of practice and experimentation to break through to greatness?
- It may be a talent, like sports or music or art.
- It may be a passion, like starting your own business, or a special hobby.
- It may be a relationship, or the profession you find yourself in, even if you didn’t choose it.
- It may be your attitude, or service to others.
It might be something spectacular, like winning a gold medal in the Olympics. Or it might be loving and serving a hurting world, like Mother Theresa. Both take commitment. Both take work. Both take a willingness to be bad at it before you’re good.
I was thinking about the first year of my marriage to Jerry. We had dated for 2 years, had pre-marital counseling, and knew each other really well. We were committed to the relationship. And yet we weren’t great at being married that first year. We had to learn how to communicate better. We had to learn how to argue constructively. We had to learn what forgiveness really meant. Over and over. We had to learn how to work through the bad in order to get really good at it. To get to the reward of a flourishing marriage.
The same was true with singing. I had a good voice and a musical talent that showed from the time I was small. But it took years of voice lessons and practice to hone that. There were many times when I was off key, interpreted the music incorrectly, or ran out of breath. Lessons made it better. And when constant traveling and conference calls tool their toll on my voice, I had to be willing to be bad at it again to regain my voice.
Julia Cameron says in “The Artist’s Way” that we have to be willing to make bad art in order to make good art. Seth Godin says that the reason Beethoven composed so many great pieces is because he composed even more bad ones.
It’s especially noticeable with art, but also true with anything that really matters. Martin Luther King gave thousands of speeches before his “I Have a Dream” speech. Thomas Edison worked for years before inventing the light bulb.
Is there something you’ve always wished for? Are you willing to be bad at it so you can get good? And even more challenging – what are you already good at that you’re willing get bad at again so you can break through to a whole new level? It’s risky. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes your taste is better than your ability to carry it out. Even when that’s true, it’s worth it to try. To learn and stretch and grow. And when you do break through, it’s like magic.
If you have experienced something you had to be bad at in order to get good, please share in the comments below.