It was the last place I ever expected to have a psychological breakthrough. Yet, there I was, hunkered down in a basement pinball bar, having a major a-ha moment. And this breakthrough was too good to keep to myself. So if life feels hard, if you’re discouraged, or if you’re trying to learn something new, this message is for you!
A few months ago, my whole family was together and looking for a fun Saturday night activity. It was cold and rainy, so we decided it was a good time to try out a local pinball bar. Lined wall to wall with pinball machines and a bar on one side, we thought it might be particularly fun for my parents, who had grown up on pinball.
We quickly spread out, each finding our game of choice. We slid in the quarters, readied our hands on the tables, and got to work. While I was attempting the Space Jam machine for the fifth time, I heard my dad behind me. He let out an exasperated sigh, clearly a bit frustrated.
“What’s wrong, Dad?” I asked. “I’m bad at this,” he scowled. And then, before I knew it, I matter of factly replied. “Well Dad, before you can be good, you have to be bad.” I stopped, surprised by my own words. I said them again, this time a little slower. “Before you can be good, you have to be bad.”
I said the words so spontaneously, they caught me off guard. But as I repeated the phrase again, I realized how true they were. I also realized how little capacity most of us have for being “bad.” We want to be good right away. We want to know what we’re doing. And we want to know how to do it, right from the start. We don’t want to struggle or stress. We don’t want to fail or flop. And we don’t want to endure the discomfort that comes with learning.
But this struggle, it’s important. It’s necessary. And in truth, it’s unavoidable. If you want something to be easy, it’s going to be hard at first. If you want something to feel natural, it’s going to feel forced at first. And if you want to be good at something, you’ve got to be bad at first. This is how you learn. This is how you grow. You cannot be good at things right away.
Think about when you first learned to walk. You fell a hundred times just trying to stand up. You wobbled before you took a single step. And you teetered before you moved an inch. At one point, you were really bad at walking. But then you got better. And then you got good.
Think about when you first learned to read. You sounded out each syllable. You moved your finger along the bottom of each word. And you read at a snail’s pace. At one point, you were pretty bad at reading. But then you practiced, sounded things out, and picked up the pace. It got easier. You figured it out. And you got good at reading.
Being bad at something, or said a little more thoughtfully, struggling, is part of the process. It’s necessary for growth. It’s part of developing a muscle and growing a skill. And it’s part of training your brain. There’s no way to avoid it. You’ve just got to work through it.
Do you want to be good at a new skill at work? Awesome. You’re going to have to be bad for a little bit. Do you want to get good at meditating and focusing your attention? Awesome! You’re going to have to struggle for a little bit, having your attention all over the place. Do you want to start running, doing Zumba, or rock climbing? That’s amazing! You’re going to need to suck for a little bit, before you get good.
You want quick results. You want instant progress. And you want to be good right away. And unfortunately, when you look at social media, it seems like everyone was good at their craft right away. But they weren’t. Because that’s not how it works. (See the proof here.) You have to bad at something before you can be good.
What are you working on in life, right now? What do you want to be good at? Whatever you just answered; does it feel hard? Kudos. That means you’re on the right track. It’s hard because that’s part of the process. That’s required if you want to be good. Don’t give up. Don’t quit. And don’t think you don’t have what it takes. Stick with it. Suck a little. Be bad. And then get better.
PS: Have a goal you want to work toward? Something you want to change? You’re going to want to read this!