If You Suck at It, Lean into It

Most of us become experts at following our “true north”—the tasks and skills that we’re good at and receive commendations for. When you “head south,” you beg, force, negotiate, or bribe yourself into trying things you’re not good at. 

I parked the car, knocked on the door, and joined the gathering. A discussion and support group for women. We went around the circle, introducing ourselves, and were asked to describe ourselves as a plant or flower. Everyone said sunflower or tulip or redwood or rose. I said, “I’m a cactus.”

They stared at me over the tops of their glasses. Tight smiles. Not fitting in with the girls club, once again.

The estrogen level in the room was suffocating. I was about to get up and leave when we were given an exercise. “Take out a piece of paper, and start writing with your nondominant hand.”

For me, that’s my left hand. I took the challenge and quickly realized that this was much harder than I thought. On the page I saw crazy scrawl, jerky lines, and almost unreadable letters. When you have forged your entire career as a language expert, seeing what looked like the fumbling scratches of a two-year-old was, well, unnerving. It brought home a point: when you get really good at what you’re really good at, the system becomes unbalanced. Your “right arm” (or one brain hemisphere) is The Hulk, but your “left arm” (the other brain hemisphere) is a puny creature, a sort of pitiful Dobby.

An interesting reality check. The lesson was about challenging yourself to try the things you know you suck at.

Doing the opposite of what you’re good at provides opportunities for exploration and experimentation. How do you think a two-year-old finds out what tastes good and what bites when poked? Trial and error, and trial and success.

The Courage to Look Silly or Clumsy
But you’re not a two-year-old, you’re a grown adult who reputedly has their shit together and doesn’t want to look stupid. Welcome to the practice of “courageously fucking up.”

“You can’t be an important and life-changing presence for some people without being a joke and an embarrassment to others,” says Mark Manson. You can’t dive into the deep end of the pool without risking getting water up your nose or crashing into something. You can’t learn to ride a bike without falling off and skinning your knee.

The Fine Art of Not Giving a Shit
Look around, and you’ll find examples of people who learned the fine art of not giving a shit. I do the Wayne’s World bow to George Carlin, one of the most articulate philosophers and social critics in contemporary history. When interviewed in 2007 about his life, Carlin said,

“I got kicked out of three different schools. I got kicked out of the Air Force, I got kicked out of choir, I got kicked out of altar boy, I got kicked out of summer camp, I got kicked out of the boy scouts. And I quit school in ninth grade. I had great marks, I was a smart kid, but I didn’t care. They weren’t teaching what I wanted. I didn’t give a shit. It’s important in life if you don’t give a shit. It can help you a lot.”

When you’re a toddler, you don’t give a shit. You don’t care what people think about you, you don’t even understand the concept of “looking silly” because all of life is silly and strange. As adults, we learn the self-awareness that becomes self-consciousness and inhibition—we don’t want to look silly to the other adults. There’s a striking moment when you allow yourself to drop those inhibitions and return (in small and/or strategic ways) to welcoming silliness. You realize that just being a self-aware creature on a spinning planet is the weirdest thing imaginable. It gets easier and easier to not give a shit about making a fool of yourself.

Make using your “nondominant hand”—a part of you that is undeveloped and clumsy—a regular event. Consciously grab opportunities that put you in the hot seat, that encourage you to fuck up, that test you in new and unexpected ways.

Lori Stephens, pNLP, CCP, WPCC is a writer, editor, publisher, Certified NLP Practitioner, Whole Person Life Coach, and the founder of ROAR Life Coaching. She specializes in Exit Strategy Coaching—helping people who are ready to quit a soul-crushing job, walk away from a toxic relationship, exit a repressive social or religious group, come out as their true sexual or gender orientation, or in some other way claim their true path. She can be reached at roarlifecoaching@gmail.com.

Photo credit: Alice Achterhof on Unsplash

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