Source: Wall Street Journal
Why not embrace the stuff you’ve always wanted to do, even if you’re mediocre?
Betsy Purves doesn’t really sing anymore.
Growing up, the classically trained soprano rehearsed intensely, performing at the Washington National Cathedral and a New York City church. Over time, other things started to fill her life—a career in fundraising for the arts, a husband, two children. Her skills atrophied. Several years ago, Ms. Purves auditioned for a choir, got rejected, and decided she was done.
“I know what it feels like to sing at a very high level and I can’t do that anymore,” the 36-year-old Washington, D.C., resident says, “so I don’t want to do that at all.”
She misses it. But even when she is singing her daughter to sleep and hears a flat note, she winces.
“I wish I could just let go,” she says.
So many of us are terrible at being terrible. As our children venture off to school, sports, dances and music lessons, we implore them: Just try something, keep practicing, you’re only a beginner. And yet, faced with evidence of our own mediocrity, we wilt in embarrassment, avoid the thing or quit altogether.
I heard more profanity while interviewing people for this column, as they detailed their failings, than for a piece I reported about swearing. We really, really don’t like being bad at things.
What if we’re missing out?
“It’s such a relief not to have to be good,” says Karen Rinaldi, a Manhattan-based publishing executive and confessed horrible surfer. After 20 years on the board, she is still bad, and she loves it.
There is the thrill of being out on the water, the feeling that any wave she does catch is a bonus. But there is also the satisfaction of not having to be the expert, the freedom to seek help and rely on others in a way she never would at work or with her kids.
BRAYAN BRIONES, ROCCO RINALDI-ROSE
Back on land, she says she is more understanding and patient with others’ mistakes.
“You realize, ‘Wow, they’re trying,’” she says.
Ms. Rinaldi, whose experience led to a book about what you can learn from wiping out, recommends asking yourself: “What is it that you’ve always wanted to do or try but were too afraid?” Whatever it is, she says, start doing it. Should you struggle, embrace the fact that you’re a beginner.
“Go in there with the humility to say, ‘I’m new,’” she says. “People want to help you learn. It makes them feel good.”
‘It’s such a relief not to have to be good.’
— Karen Rinaldi, publishing executive
We used to be better at being lousy. A recent study found that average levels of social perfectionism—the sense that you have to show the world you’re flawless—among more than 41,000 college students increased by about a third from 1989 to 2016.
Over time, competition for education and jobs has ramped up, explains Thomas Curran, lead author of the study and professor of psychology and behavioral science at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Images of perfection fill our social-media feeds, along with ads assuring us we wouldn’t be so deficient if we just bought this thing or tried that product. Parents often add to the pressure, fearing their kids will end up sliding down the socioeconomic ladder.
“The whole fabric of society is held up on that, our sense of inadequacy and being not enough,” says Dr. Curran.
Two years into running his own business, Elliot Pepper was struggling with some of the basics. The intricacies of tax codes were no problem for the Baltimore-area accountant and financial planner, but he couldn’t keep track of client referrals. He forgot to send invoices, never collecting money he had earned.
At networking events with fellow entrepreneurs, “I’d just be nodding my head, like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m totally killing it,’” he says. Admitting that he wasn’t good at this stuff felt like acknowledging that he sucked overall.
He finally solved the problem by bringing on a business partner, someone who excels at the details he doesn’t. Fessing up about the problems, and watching his new counterpart fix them, made him realize his fears about being judged were just in his head.
“People don’t care that much,” he says.
Our own expectations don’t help. I started dabbling in yoga this summer, after a running injury sidelined me from my sport of choice.
When I lamented to Syd Schulz, a professional mountain biker, that I was terrible at the poses, cringing each time the instructor walked over to my mat for remedial assistance, her response was what did you expect?
“It’s a little insulting to people who have spent years and years of their lives acquiring skills to think that you should have those overnight,” says Ms. Schulz, of Los Alamos, N.M. The 31-year-old cyclist spent last winter learning a type of Nordic skiing, waddling up hills and attempting to improve her form going downhill.
“We expect linear progress,” she says. Years spent working on her cycling have taught her that improvement often comes in halting steps, preceded by long stretches of stagnation or even getting worse.
For Zachary Bouck, abandoning perfectionism at the skate park means he gets to ride his bike every time he wants.PHOTO: BRANT DASINGER
From the moment Zachary Bouck glimpsed a BMX, or bike motocross, competition on TV as a 14-year-old in North Dakota, he was convinced it was his future.
He spent money from his newspaper-delivery route on a bike designed for BMX tricks and built ramps in his backyard. After high school, he went to Southern California to work and train at a special facility equipped with foam pits and jumps.
He discovered two things. He wasn’t good enough to go pro. Nor was he sure he wanted to.
Professional BMX life was less glorious than he imagined, he says. Hanging out with his heroes, he saw how many struggled with money, drugs and injuries.
“I could tell already it would not have made me happy,” he says.
He left the West Coast, eventually enrolling in college in Colorado and becoming a wealth adviser. These days, the 39-year-old hits local skate parks with his bike, where grinding a handrail, landing a 360—or not—he feels like a little kid, zen, in the moment. The point is just to be there.
“The benefit of not pushing myself every day,” he says, “is that I get to ride every time I want.”
Write to Rachel Feintzeig at Rachel.Feintzeig@wsj.com