If you’re not failing once in a while, maybe you should. Give it a whirl. Trying things you’re bad at is crucial to personal growth, career advancement, leadership, marriage, parenting…you name it.
If you’re not failing, you’re not trying.
Let’s take a step back. The failure I’m talking about is failure in a special lens. There’s failure in a sense of failed-to-pay-child support. There’s failure to maintain control of a motor vehicle, and a hundred other obvious failures I’m certainly not condoning that are defined by characteristics of negligence, apathy or conscious poor decisions.
I’m focusing on the fail forward mindset and the imminent failures that are a part of moving ahead. This is the getting-your-hands-dirty and learning-on-the-way mindset that is so wonderfully engrained in the most creative, entrepreneurial and active souls around. Perhaps you know a few or you aspire to be one. I’m talking about the underdogs who visualize their future and go after it full bore, no doubt gaining a few bumps and bruises along the way - bumps and bruises that later become badges of honor.
How to do things you're bad at (and get better)
You see, I believe the most adventurous individuals have an insatiable desire to get better at what they’re bad at. I don’t have all the answers, and I for one, have tons of room to grow, but I’m keen on sharing some truths that can help you on this path. And I’m eager to hear from anyone reading if there are tricks you’ve found, too.
1) Recognize it’s okay to start at ground zero
Cut yourself a break and lose the ego. If this new endeavor, behavior, lifestyle design, dream, job, etc. is something you really want to go after, then go after it in the posture of a pupil rather than a pro. Pride prevents many from simply starting, but the second tragedy is its ability to prevent lots of people from asking or absorbing key knowledge in a formative season.
Generally speaking, people can get behind a novice who recognizes they’re a novice. People actually extend a lot of grace and support to those who can admit they’re a newbie, but also a sponge trying to soak up any positive feedback or criticism. The same can not always be said about people who presume to know everything and stand out like a sore thumb.
Simply put, rock your training wheels with pride.
2) Leverage parallel inspiration
What truths, perspectives, habits from a staple in your life can empower your new undertaking? Can you draw similarities or differences to help digest the next task? If you’re learning a new language and struggling to master translations, can you pull from perseverance or fortitude you learned running cross country in high school? If you’re struggling to launch your business, can you think back to days as an early mom when nothing felt like it was going your way?
A new path will surely present some new challenges, but there will be familiar seasons, pitfalls and victories if you look wide enough.
Sure, you’re a seasoned snowboarder now, but your first few days on the slopes were nothing but slams. This job will get easier; your weaknesses will start to move aside; you’ll get control of your temper. The first few days may be nothing but slams, but you’ll be carving the slopes in no time and find the joy in things that once kicked you to the ground.
3) Engage a mentor
I’m huge on podcasts, books and inspirational videos, but nothing compares to a niche, real-time, real-life human who can weigh in on your progress from a veteran perspective. It’s the difference between trying to change a flat on a new mountain bike from memory of a forum while you’re stranded in the desert, versus having a friend who can guide you through each step over your shoulder.
Finding a mentor might be easier than being a pupil (see pride). If there’s someone leading the charge on your exact undertaking, if there is a thought leader who has mastered this arena, find a way to connect with them and build a relationship. Ask questions and be prepared to respond in action. If a mentor suggests doing this or that, being careful around that aspect, ignoring advice XYZ or trend ABC, take it at face value. Everyone’s human. There’s no such thing as finding a perfect mentor. But you will streamline your attempts at getting better if you can humble yourself to knowledge and experience that made errors or cut corners that you don’t have to.
4) Bounce back, immediately
Don’t bet on yourself to fail, but embrace the reality that you will very likely slip up trying something new. You’ll crash and burn or get lost along the way. But you must also embrace the idea that even though you’ll fail along the way, you’ll prevail in the end. This mental framework is where innovation, progress and growth emerge from the ashes.
Decide early on that when you fail, you’ll dust yourself off and get back in the saddle. Find a way.
5) Stay wiser than your weaknesses
Call out your snares by name. Write them down. Shine light on the areas of your life that may jeopardize your goals.
6) Be an active student of form and function
A great equation for personal success is rooted in the understanding of how and why something works the way it does. If you can harness those insights, you’re more likely to commit to the best possible way of seeing your progress through. This is along the vein of weight lifters who recognize how fundamental flexibility and range of motion is to hitting PRs.
7) Shift stress into strength
Don’t let friction or hurdles turn into weight on your shoulders. Muscle stress into mental and physical fuel that propels you forward.
8) Level up
An object in motion stays in motion. Maintain your trajectory and keep passing mile markers. Don’t let up.
Things I'm Bad At (But Getting Better)
- Saving money
- Sharing my time
- Clean(er) eating
- Seeing the best in people
- Consistent fitness