Just Go Be Terrible

Neon music sign
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was in Africa, they said I had to sing.

I was fairly upset about this. I had purposely signed up for a “business focused” DTS with this YWAM base so that I would not have to sing.

Anyone who spoke to me beforehand knew how excited I was to go to a business focused school. I was thinking that perhaps we would teach people how to set up their own small businesses. Or maybe we could learn how to sustain ourselves as missionaries. But alas, we had to sing and dance.

In Nigeria, it is quite common to go to through singing lessons – in fact it seems to be part of their education. Because everyone there was Nigerian, this was no problem for anyone except the white American girl who kept explaining, “You don’t get it. I really cannot sing. I cannot do it”.

I had a lot of anger and frustration. It was overwhelming when everyone would learn a new song and there I was – off-key with no idea what I was singing. When they said “Singing is more than just saying the lyrics and trying to get the tune right” I was flabbergasted – as this was the only effort I put into singing. I gave up trying to sing well a long time ago, when my friends I asked for advice gave up on me.

My friends in Nigeria saw the solution as so simple – just practice. You will get better, just practice. But my anger and resentment remained.

Finally I wondered why I was this upset. I said out loud to someone, “I have never had to be bad at anything. I have so many things that I am good at that I can just do that instead.” Can’t sing? Ok I will write. Can’t draw art? Ok I will play around with software. Can’t do public speaking? Ok I will go work on some math problems. I never was forced into something I was bad at. I just faked it until I was able to quit.

Last fall I took a public speaking class. My first speech was terrible. I felt an idea of this despair that I would later feel in Africa. But for now, I loved to speak so much that I was able to be encouraged. I was listening to my audiobook of Quitter by Jon Acuff (which is the ONLY audiobook I have – Acuff’s voice is worth it) when he said the only way to be awesome at everything is to be terrible at it first. In order to be great, you must first be bad.

When I read my xanga blog posts from age 12, I was terrible. When I read my 8-year-old diary entries, I was an awful writer. But I didn’t know that yet. By the time I knew it, I was already way better. Even now, I believe I am a good writer but I have miles and miles to improve. I just like practicing more because even if I didn’t improve, I would not be so bad.

But that is really stupid.

Some people are born naturally good a sport. Some people have to struggle. But a lot of the time, those who struggle end up on top. My favorite example of this was my martial arts instructor. I heard stories from him and his instructor that he was the worst. His instructor told him, straight up to his 7-year-old face, something like “You will never get to an intermediate belt”. And the man believed it because he was that bad. But this kid fought. He worked and trained harder than any peer and got his black belt about age 11. He went on to become a world champion at tournaments in everything – forms, sparring, weapons. But he did that by being terrible first. By being really, truly terrible. Martial Arts was not a “talent” or a “natural skill” to him at all.

So here I am, learning to be terrible. At the moment I have a major focus on this. I may be a good writer naturally but I am not a good author naturally. I want to write a book. My first draft, as often as I am reminded from websites,will be terrible. Accept that. And then write a terrible book. Then go back and make it an excellent book. So there I will try.

What have you refused to be bad at?

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