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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Truth: It's Normal to Suck at Something When You're Just Getting Started

I like to be good at things. As a matter of fact, if I’m not at least 90% confident that I’ll be remotely decent at something, I’m not even going to bother trying my hand at it—and definitely not in front of other people.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll attempt it in the comfort of my own home without others there to witness my inevitable failure and resulting embarrassment. But, more likely than not, I’m simply going to walk away and write it off as something I simply wouldn’t be good at.

I know I can’t be alone in this—I assume most of us feel this way when faced with something we’ve never tried before. So, I was relieved to find this insightful article by Thomas Oppong that reinforced my belief that we all deal with this limiting self-doubt.

Oppong provides an incredibly encouraging message for everyone—but it resonates especially strongly with perfectionists like myself. Throughout his article, he asserts that you’re probably not going to be flawless the first time you attempt something new. And, you know what? That’s totally OK. Even further, trying and failing is better than never having tried at all.

He says:

The greatest impediment to creativity is our impatience, the almost inevitable desire to hurry up the process, express something, and make a quick splash.

When I first read that single line, it felt like a punch to the gut. I can think of so many things—both personally and in my career—that I’ve prevented myself from doing, just because I felt this immense amount of self-imposed pressure to knock it out of the park right away.

I’ve turned down innovative freelance projects that have intimidated me. I’ve passed up on speaking opportunities because I’ve never done anything like that before and feel overwhelmed by figuring it all out. I even refused to join my former employer’s kickball team because I haven’t done something remotely athletic since my high school gym class.

Are you nodding along with me thinking, “Me too!”? I can’t blame you. So, how exactly can we all combat this natural inclination to shy away from things we assume we won’t excel at?

In his piece, Oppong recommends two different things. First, it’s time to refer back to that age-old “practice makes perfect” advice you’ve heard too many times to count. “If you want to be the best at anything, you need to be the best at practicing more than anyone else,” Oppong explains, “The value of practice can have profound effects on your career.”

And, he’s right. Somewhere along the way, our desire for immediate success has outweighed the importance of committing ourselves to the process of slowly getting better. “When you practice something—anything—you improve, you grow, you advance, you gain a skill and heaps of confidence in the process, because you get better with time,” Oppong adds.

Secondly, it’s important for you to—as Oppong puts it—give yourself permission to suck. Accept that you won’t be an overnight sensation at most things and then give yourself the necessary time, patience, and forgiveness to improve, rather than throwing your hands up at the first sight of disappointment.

“You’ll suck at most things in the beginning,” Oppong reminds all of us, “It takes time, persistence, and patience to create your most amazing work. Keep on trying.”

So, take a minute to think about it: Is there something you’ve been holding yourself back from, simply because you’re afraid you won’t be great at it right away? I challenge you to let go of that unnecessary pressure to knock it out of the park immediately and instead just try it.

If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. If you suck at it, you suck at it. If it’s something you want to get better at, you’ll practice and persevere. But, don’t let the fear of not being an instant success be what prevents you from ever giving it a go.

Take it from me—you deserve so much more than that.

Photo of person stressed courtesy of JGI/Tom Grill/Getty Images.