Letting Go of Being Good

 

As I spat out a mouthful of snow, I realised my nose was bleeding.

“Are you alright? That was a crazy fall.”

Assuring the friendly skier I was OK, I managed to smile, limp to the end of the run and find my way to the bathroom. Where I promptly burst into hot, embarrassed tears. My face hurt, my hip hurt, my knee hurt and man, my pride hurt.

But let's backtrack a moment…

 

In 2004, Ben and I lived in Canada. We got jobs on a ski hill in Banff and were so excited. It was going to be awesome!

There was the small problem of never having seen snow before, and being completely incapable of skiing or snowboarding – a requirement of the job – but that was a mere trifle. No big deal. Until I realised snowboarding was hard and I sucked at it.

And instead of resolving to learn and improve my snowboarding skills over time, I slipped into envy, resentment and fear. Turns out I had a very low threshold for being bad at things.

“Those people, sliding around the mountain with their grace and ability. Pfft. They probably grew up on the mountain. It must be easy for them. I'll just sit here drinking my coffee. Who needs this anyway? Stupid sport with stupid boards and stupid skills.”

The Problem With Perfectionism

For as long as I could remember, in almost every aspect of my life, I'd worshipped perfection. I'd gone after it and expected nothing less of myself. Any results beneath excellent were unsatisfactory.

I expected mastery before I'd started my apprenticeship. I expected great results without putting in the work.

The problem is – you don't get good without practicing, experiencing, failing, doing, falling, sucking, learning and getting back up.

Letting Go of Being Good

No-one got good at snowboarding while sitting on their arse drinking coffee. Yet that's where you would find me on my break. Watching everyone else slide by, in control, with easy grace, smoothly shifting their knees and feet to get where they wanted to go.

I was envious and arrogant. I assumed it was easy for them. That for some reason it came naturally for other people. I conveniently ignored the fact that “these people” may have practiced for years or grown up on the mountains. Who knows? And really, who cares? I still wasn't learning anything by sitting around sulking.

So I got up. Strapped on my board. Promptly fell over. Got up again and started moving. Then I kept moving. Adjusted my stance. Worked out what worked and what didn't. (For the record, straightening your knees doesn't work. See bloodied nose above.)

Getting Good – Over Time

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells us we need to spend 10,000 hours working at a skill or craft before we can master it. While I don't necessarily agree with the specifics of his theory, I can appreciate – as can my bloodied nose – that we need to give ourselves time.

Time to fail, to try new things, to learn each of the small parts of a particular skill, to assess our performance, to fall down, to get back up again. Time to complete our apprenticeship step by step.

Can you imagine how different we would feel if we stopped putting pressure on ourselves to become immediate masters? How free we would feel to experiment, to try, to fail, to start again?

Parenting: No-one knows how to be a parent straight away. Even if the instinctive response of caring for our young comes very naturally, the approaches to dealing with toddlers, preschoolers, tweens and teens? Notsomuch. Parenting is a learnt skill, and one that constantly changes.

Creative Work: Van Gogh wasn't born a master. Neither was Brian Wilson, Neil Young or Tim Winton. Before we'd ever heard of them, they'd tried, failed and studied. And they haven't (or didn't) stop learning. You can apply this to your writing, singing, poetry, painting or weaving. We all start at the beginning.

Running A Household: Moving out of home, getting married, starting a family – these are huge shifts in circumstance, and expecting ourselves to know how to do it all without any experience is simply setting ourselves up to fail. Give yourself grace and time.

Sports: Kelly Slater works hard at his mastery, and would have been wiped out as a learner just as much as you or I. He didn't become the best surfer in the world by giving up and heading in. You probably won't ever be the best runner, basketballer, swimmer or jujitsu-lady in the world, but giving yourself over to learning the craft over time means you will become as good as you can.

Living an Intentional Life: No-one can turn their life from hectic to calm overnight, and to expect such a dramatic change will lead to resentment, anger and the likelihood of slipping backwards. Instead, harness the power of small changes over time.

Pack Away Expectations

What if we put away our expectations? What if we said, “I will not be perfect at this. Ever. I might get good at it, but in the meantime, I'm probably going to suck.”

It's OK to strive for great things. It's wonderful to have goals and aspirations and dreams. But giving ourselves grace while we learn (and we are always learning) is one way to stop worshipping at the altar of perfection, and instead start experiencing life.

As for me and my snowboard?

By the end of the season, I was good. Blue-run good at least. Black-run…shaky. And moguls? Forget about it.

What I do remember is our last day on the mountain. I won the day off in a lottery and spent hours riding, laughing, falling down, still not being excellent. The last run of the day was sloppy – the May sunshine beating down – but it was excellent. I was controlled, aware, carving and I felt free and exhilarated.

Just think, I would never have had that moment – the moment I can still feel nearly 10 years on – had I given up. The bloodied noses, broken sunglasses, frustration and embarassment have faded, but the memory remains.

 

Do you allow yourself to be bad at things? Or do you expect greatness immediately?

 

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22 Responses to Letting Go of Being Good

  1. Dan Garner says:

    Ah, what you have pointed out is, I think, the primary barrier which prevents us from expanding and achieving more in our lives. I can think of several activities that I have stopped doing over the years, only because I didn’t get good quickly. What a shame.

    I’ve recently learned that I have to learn just like everyone else. If I want to be good at something I’ve got to be bad at it for a while. I would have never even considered starting a blog a few years back because I’m not a very good writer. Now I do it anyway.

    Dan

    • Brooke says:

      Two things, Dan.

      1. You are a very good writer – I love how eloquently you can sum up the most complicated of ideas into a short blog post.
      2. I’m reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield at the moment, and he talks about The Resistance, which is exactly what you mentioned. The primary barrier that prevents us from expanding and achieving more. Such a fascinating read.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Thanks very much for this post. On a personal level, it was very timely. I kinda know this stuff already but the reminder is most definitely useful. Just need to not beat myself up for forgetting this message from time to time! And the part about ‘jujitsu-lady’ was uncannily accurate! :)

  3. Cat Freese says:

    I love this post, thank you. My favorite part was when you said that people who are really good now had to start from the bottom too.
    I don’t give up on things I can’t do, but I am very hard on myself for not being perfect right at the start.
    Thank you

  4. Brooke!

    Great minds think alike. My post today: http://myjourneytoithaca.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/the-beauty-of-imperfection/ .

    I know so many people who wear their perfectionism as a badge, not realizing how limiting it is. Good for you for calling it out and tackling it.

    :-)

    • Brooke says:

      Perfectionism is limiting. ABSOLUTELY. I feel like I’m finally learning to let go, and while it frustrates me that I’m not better at it (HA! How’s that for irony?) what I’m gaining each day is absolutely worth it. Thanks, Bethany. :)

  5. I consider myself to be a recovering perfectionist. Kills me how many things I missed out on because I (thought I) wasn’t good enough. No more!

  6. Anzi says:

    I tend to blame myself for having been bad at finances and getting organised for so long. I think enviously about people I know and have known who have saved their money ever since they first saw a coin. And then I shake myself and say “Hey, it’s never too late. You sucked at this before, but it doesn’t have to mean that you have to keep sucking at it.”

    We have to be kind to ourselves. If you fall, get up, dust yourself, and try again.

    (But I’ll never go downhill skiing again. I hate it. :-D)

  7. EcoCatLady says:

    This is a fabulous post. I spent 16 years running a music school. Our school was purely recreational, and we catered mostly to adults. I encountered countless people who believed the myth that the only way to become good at music was to start when you were 3 years old. The longer I spent working with adult beginners, and the more I compared them to children, the more obvious the situation became.

    Kids didn’t learn any faster or easier than the adults, they just had a much MUCH greater tolerance for sucking completely. I think that as a child you’re sort of expected to be terrible at first.

    I mean, for the first 3-4 years kids learning to play the violin are really painful to listen to! But they don’t really seem to notice. They’ll saw away playing horrendously out of tune versions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and feel proud as punch to be up there playing their instrument. And since it’s a fun game, they’ll spend hours a day tormenting their parents, siblings, pets and neighbors with the most gawd-awful squawkings you’ve ever heard!

    Adults, on the other hand, can’t handle sucking. They cringe with every out of tune note or inadvertent squeak. Never mind the fact that they can generally learn in one lesson what it will take a child many months to master – they just feel too embarrassed to be where they are. And they also tend to view practicing as “work” so they avoid it because it just reminds them that they’re “not good enough.”

    Anyhow, I think we’d all be soooo much better off if we just adopted the attitude “If at first you don’t succeed – don’t be terribly surprised!” After all, experts are just people who’ve gotten their mistakes out of the way already!

    • Brooke says:

      I love the insight in your comment. Particularly the idea that children are good at being bad because no-one expects anything else (in the beginning stages). As always, we can learn a LOT from kids. :)

  8. Ree Klein says:

    Hey, Brooke! Yup, that was me…sitting in the lodge sipping coffee (or whatever!) saying oh so similar things. Never did learn to ski — too cold. But I have overcome similar thinking in my life to get good at certain things.

    I loved this line from your post: “…giving ourselves grace while we learn (and we are always learning) is one way to stop worshiping at the altar of perfection, and instead start experiencing life.”

    That was a moment of brilliance!

    Ree ~ I blog at EscapingDodge.com

  9. Tam says:

    Gosh, Brooke, I have a post sitting here waiting to go on a similar topic.

    I LOVE learning new things. But only when I’m good at them!

    Sucking is never fun. But giving into it steals away awesome experiences. So suck it up, princess, and be terrible at stuff, until you’re not ;)

    Love your insights, as always xx

    • Brooke says:

      “Sucking is never fun. But giving into it steals away awesome experiences. So suck it up, princess, and be terrible at stuff, until you’re not ;)”

      LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. xx

  10. Laine says:

    Hi Brooke,
    Even though I don’t have a regular job at the moment, I started feeling like my life is crazy again with family and community orchestra commitments, and the constant job hunt, applications and making do with a limited budget. That was a sign that I needed to have a read of something on Slow Your Home so thanks for this.

    Writing a cover letter, selection criteria and CV was something I expected to be pretty good at but I need to be more patient.

    • Brooke says:

      That’s so much to have on your plate, Laine! Giving yourself some time and grace is probably a good option. (And good luck with the job hunt!) x

  11. […] Letting Go of Being Good […]

  12. Angel Jem says:

    If at first you don’t succeed, go away and play with the thing and come back later. Only I keep forgetting this and having to come back again and again to play.

  13. […] Tradução livre do texto Letting go of being perfect, escrito pela Brooke do blog Slow your […]

  14. Janis @ HomeStyle says:

    Strange I stumbled upon this post today……..I find perfectionism a daily struggle.

    On a personal note…..my husband’s name is also Ben ( we live in Canada) and my nephew is named Kelly Slater (named after his dad’s surfing idol).

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