It was the late 80’s—the summer after Kindergarten and all my friends could ride their bikes without training wheels. I was quite embarrassed about my tardiness to bloom (a theme that has persisted throughout my whole life) and one afternoon I decided that I was going to learn how to ride. It was past time for me to learn this skill and by golly, I was going to make it happen!
I stole my older brother’s bike—which was enormous compared to mine. At first he wasn’t bothered because he knew I couldn’t take it anywhere anyway—he didn’t know that I was on a mission. And I kid you not—I started riding! On the first real try! I think it had to do with the fact that it was really too tall for me and so when I pushed down on the pedals, I had to use my whole weight and that lack of hesitation propelled me onward. I was really zooming! I couldn’t believe that it was really happening for me! I felt like I could do anything.
Once he saw that I was actually going somewhere with his bicycle, my older brother got a little perturbed. He yelled for me to bring it back but I was in my own world and I was going fast. There would be no stopping me that day. I felt like I could fly!
I drove past my brother who was holding a stick. In frustration, he thrusted it towards me and by some fluke, it went right through the spokes of the front tire. The stick caught in the handle bars and stopped the bike on a dime. Now I really was flying—literally. I flew off the bike and landed in the middle of the street. My brother was grounded from watching Alf that night. The next night, my dad took the training wheels off my bike and took me out to teach me how to ride. I rode a mile home that night with him in the pickup truck behind me driving slower than I can possibly imagine, now, in my adulthood.
And that was the last time I remember specifically setting out to learn how to do something that I didn’t know I would be able to do well.
I was a cautious and sensitive kid who became a cautious and sensitive adult. I don’t like to draw attention to myself. Which means that I don’t like to do things wrong. I don’t want people to go out of their way to point out my mistakes—it’s deeply embarrassing for me. In the 5th grade I just straight up ceased learning my multiplication tables because our teacher had us go around the room and answer questions. I really struggled with my 4’s and so I traded public embarrassment for complete defiance (coupled with public embarrassment but at least this way it was on my terms). She told me that I’d ruin my whole life if I didn’t learn my basic multiplication tables but what now, Mrs. H? They told us that we wouldn’t always have a calculator on us—they didn’t predict the iPhone. These are beautiful times we’re living in.
I’ve always loved beautiful hand lettering. I’ve always liked my handwriting but I’m talking about more intentional art pieces with beautifully scripted quotes and phrases and illustrations. I’ve always wanted to be good at that but I just wasn’t. It wasn’t the kind of thing that I was good at and I knew that because I’d never tried it and you can’t be good at something you’ve never tried, right? I guess there’s some logic in there?
So if those who can’t do, teach. Then those who can’t do either, just follow people who can on Instagram. And I loved watching the videos of people practicing letters. I watched for months and months until I realized that one of my favorites that I was following had only been doing it for about 8 months! This excited me but I still didn’t think about even trying to do it, myself.
A few months ago, Ryan was working on something. Ryan is the kind of person who can do almost anything in the whole world. That’s what it feels like to me, anyhow. I asked him how he knows so much and he said, “You know what’s great about YouTube? Anything you want to learn, you can learn it!”
And by that evening I was watching 11th Apartment Videos and copying everything she did. And I like it a lot. I made a point to draw or write something every day.
But you know what was even more exciting to me than anything else? The way that I decided to embrace being bad at it in the first place. Instead of the way that I would clam up about the multiplication tables, I decided to start sharing my super duper early efforts on Instagram because I knew that I will get better and I wanted to be able to look back on it. And I wasn’t even scared about looking stupid or drawing attention to my lack of inherent talent. I was just excited about deciding to do something new and committing to it.
I have been drawing every day and even developing a style that I like. I have goals and everything. I’m excited about being in the beginning stages of something and I’m very happy to stay here for as long as I can.
11 thoughts on “It’s Good to Be Bad”
I love this! I’m a serial quitter, and trying to get over that 🙂
I’m a serial quitter, too! I do believe that we should be allowed to quit anything that isn’t giving us joy at any point that we want to without shame. But I also believe in challenging myself. I vow to you that when I stop enjoying this, I’ll happily put it away. 🙂
Good for you! This is a great post – a reminder that its totally ok to suck at something because the only reason you’re ‘not good at it’ is because you haven’t done it before. Anyone can master anything, truly, with the right mindset and the willingness to learn.
-Clarissa @ The View From Here
Absolutely! Anyone can learn any skill that they want to develop if they really want it. 🙂
I really like your lettering and drawings! I can’t believe you’ve just picked it up- it looks really good 😀 I’m glad you’re sticking with it
Thanks so much Stephanie! My goal for the year is to be confident enough to make our Christmas cards. Wish me luck! 😀
As you know, I’ve been studying gender roles a lot lately, and one resounding generalization is how, from a very young age, we encourage bravery in boys and perfection in girls. Because of this, women are much less likely to answer questions they don’t know; to ask for more money in negotiation; to take risks. Obviously, everyone has different truth, but this is something that resonates with many, many women. Myself included. So what’s so encouraging is to read about others like ourselves, like YOU, who are breaking out of these formative restrictions of self. And the beauty of it all is that this is happening for both women and men! Women are embracing their bolder sides, and men are embracing their nurturing sides. I love this generation! No matter how mad people get at our technology and entitlement.
JAMIE! This is awesome! I watched that Ted Talk about perfectionism in girls and bravery in boys but I never added it up to what I’m doing right now. That’s awesome. Man, we need to be teaching our girls how to fail well. 😀
That’s absolutely profound and now I need to find that TED talk!
I often suffer from “if I can’t do it as well as XYZ why would I even bother?” and that’s inhibited me a great deal. I’m lucky that I’ve run into some of the most amazing people I’ve known as an adult who encourage me to be bad at something for as long as I love doing it.
To the riding the bike – my 15 year old son never learned to ride a bike. When he became too old for training wheels he flat out refused to learn because he couldn’t imagine he could do it without. This weekend we picked up the bike he got for Christmas and rode it like he’s been doing it all of his life. I couldn’t believe it, and neither could he. He is even going out this afternoon to practice riding because even though he was a natural, he knew he needed to get more comfortable.
That’s so beautiful. We tell ourselves something for so long that we just believe it’s true even though it’s entirely possible that we might naturally just do it well without even knowing it.