Practicing Being Bad at Things

Practicing Being Bad at Things June 12, 2017

Getting accustomed to sucking at something without losing your will to do it actually takes some practice. Like many perfectionists, I need to be reminded of this every so often.

Me performing at FlowMotion Symposium 2016.
Me performing at FlowMotion Symposium 2016.

I really like Melanie Nelson’s Vitae piece The Importance of Being Bad at Something. In it, she asserts:

The ability to keep going through the initial period of incompetence is like a muscle. It will atrophy if you don’t use it. And if you exercise it, it grows stronger. However, as we advance in our careers and get more and more specialized in our focus, we have fewer naturally occurring opportunities to suck at something. Most of every day is spent on things we are already good at.

While Nelson’s piece provides a lot of background based on her experiences having to learn to muscle her way through sucking at academic tasks, she also brings in her recent experiences learning to crochet (and sucking at it). I relate to this both as an academic and as a dancer… and a fiber artist, because let’s face it, I’m not that great at knitting despite being at it for *mumble* years (probably close to a decade).

This is a timely reminder for me, as I’m alternating between madly practicing self-care this summer so I don’t fall apart, and trying to up my game as a dancer and generally fit human. And I’m also picking up the pieces of my dance community from being away, which means being attentive to how my dancing appears to others.

As I wrote in The Freedom to Suck at Something,

It’s easy for semi-pro dancers to become very image-oriented, especially when we’re trying to attract students or get gigs.

And we can so easily become image-oriented when it comes to pursuits that matter for our careers, but also those that we do in front of other people. We’re socially conditioned, and some would argue hard-wired, to seek approval and belonging from others, so no wonder we always want to look like we’re doing impressive work.

But you don’t reach the point of being able to do impressive work until you slog through the less-impressive steps first. And being able to do so without getting discouraged to the point of quitting requires practice.


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