How to suck.

As a surprise, I signed up for ballroom dancing lessons with Jenny. I had rosy visions of twirling her around the floor while brilliantined men in dinner jackets played peppy tunes on from the bandstand.

Alas, after two or three sessions, it was obvious that I suck. While my wife is graceful and athletic as a prima ballerina, I clearly and congenitally have no innate sense of rhythm, no ability to remember steps, no actual understanding of music at all. Despite her brave smile, I finally acknowledged I’d have to buy Jenny steel-capped pumps or hang up my dancing shoes. 

What if you try doing something and find you’re not very good at it. What are the consequences?

First, the cons.

You get frustrated. Ashamed. Humiliated. Then start beating yourself up for wasting everyone’s time trying to do this. One failure metastasizes into a blanket condemnation of your ability to do anything at all, ever. You’re a blundering old idiot with two left feet, non-opposable thumbs, jackass ears, and a tail.

Now, what if you could turn your abject failure into something a little more useful. Consider your venture into new territory as a brave quest to discover your personal limits. Failure is a great way to grow your self-awareness and see what you’re made of.  It also helps you shed fantasies you might have about yourself as a great golfer or balalaika player or Texas Two-stepper. To dwell firmly in reality, however embarrassing.

Even more productively, failure is an opportunity to explore other ways to improve yourself, rather than give up. Start by looking for inspiration from those who have failed before they succeeded. Then, ask for guidance in overcoming your hurdles. It’s a great way to make friends and learn from others with similar ambitions who are just a few steps ahead.  

Take true stock of yourself. Maybe you’re giving up too easily. Get some grit, suck it up, and push yourself a little harder. Success might be just around the bend. Or perhaps you need to alter your ambitions. Maybe the jitterbug isn’t for you — but you were born to hustle.

Keep pushing yourself to try and to learn new things, no matter how they turn out. You’ll find yourself growing stronger, more capable, more resilient and courageous. 

Failure is an option. Especially if you succeed at it.

13 thoughts on “How to suck.”

  1. I might, in your circumstance, consider dancing lessons to be cross-training. Next time you give it a whirl why not imagine that you have paint brushes or great big calligraphy brushes attached to your dancing shoes. Or next time you paint or draw imagine yourself dancing across the paper…
    Life is so sweet when we dive into the unknown isn’t it?

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  2. Years ago I wanted to learn to juggle. Just three coloured balls, nothing fancy. I wasn’t aiming to go out in the streets entertaining the crowds all summer. I just wanted to learn how to juggle, well, cos. I bought a tube of three smallish juggling balls from the toy store for a couple of pounds, and – no YouTube How-to’s back in those days – I threw one up in the air with one hand, and caught it with the other. OK, Good. It’s a start. I threw one up from each hand, and tried to catch with the opposite hand. Hmm. Nope. I practiced and practiced. I spent hours running after stray balls, collecting them up, and trying again. Hit by a stroke of genius, I moved the whole operation to my tiny 4ft by 5ft entrance porch. Ha ha! Less running after balls that escaped! I kept trying and trying until suddenly, I did it. I could juggle! I COULD juggle. 12 hours earlier I couldn’t. For the best part of 12 hours of trying I couldn’t – and yeah, I did try pretty much continuously; and now I could. What it taught me was that sometimes even those things that we’re absolutely certain that, dammit, we just can’t do… suddenly can turn into something we can. Now I’ve long forgotten the juggling skill, and would need to begin again back in the porch, but the real lesson that I learned was that the instinct to say, “I can’t do that.” sometimes needs to be ignored, even when all the evidence seems to back it up. And that’s a lesson I’ll never forget.

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  3. Always good to read your posts Danny. Don’t forget you have a big heart and that it has rhythm.So how is drawing like ballroom dancing? I bet you it is a lot like ballroom dancing; if you have an imagination and boy do I know you have one of those. Now if I can just remember that for myself.

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  4. Danny, thanks for flipping that tired expression. On a side note, I recently found a movie called “Puzzle” at the library. A woman finds she has a talent for putting puzzles together, takes the train, then a cab, then walks through Washington Square to find a puzzle shop. Inside people are sitting at tables working puzzles. Does such a thing exist?!?

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  5. I have spent almost 60 years saying I can’t draw. Before that it didn’t matter, and then somebody told me I was no good at it. I believed them until you came along with your little Drawing Without Talent course and somehow magically changed my mind about that. Now, just 2 years later, I even draw recognizable faces. Faces, of all things! That’s just so unimaginable that when I brought one to show and tell at a local art guild meeting, someone who knows me well, just gushed over it and told everyone there to excuse her enthusiasm but she just couldn’t get over how quickly I’ve improved. Even I am having trouble believing I have gone from “I can’t draw,” to picking up a pen or brush and just doing it without thought that not being able to. When you suck, sometimes all you need is a little encouragement. Sketchbook Skool facilty, courses, and students all gave me that, and I’m so grateful.

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  6. You had me at “I signed up for ballroom dancing lessons with Jenny.” The fact that a man tries dancing is very impressive to most women. Just ask a few.

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  7. Lately there has been a lot written and talked about that if we always try to learn new things it will help to ward off dementia and Alzheimer as we age.

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  8. More than a decade ago, I started taking tango lessons. I figured, how hard could it be? I found out the long and hard way. Like a lot of things, it can take minutes to learn the steps, but a lifetime to master. in In those early years, I’ve felt like a klutz, had my metatarsal pierced by more than one stiletto, and sat on the sidelines for what felt like a whole evening waiting to be asked to dance. These days when I show up at a milonga, it’s usually just pure flow–and joy. Which I never would have gotten to without forging ahead past all those sucky bits.

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  9. Danny, I can relate. We can learn most anything if we keep going through and past the horrible, first few lessons.
    In the run-up to an anniversary party were were planning, my beloved wife took me for dance lessons a few years ago. Our instructor was a pretty good relationship counselor – and she was still in high school! She observed my approach to dancing was to try to follow the instructions carefully, to count too much, to look at my feet. Hey, I’m an engineer, okay?
    I spent too much time deciding what to do next, so my wife would lead. We learned a little about dancing and a lot about how to balance our mismatched styles. Our terrific dance instructor showed me how to feel the music more, and showed my wife how to wait patiently for me to lead.
    At the party, we managed a credible waltz to one of our favorite songs. We learned one of the invitees was an expert dancer. She whispered to my wife that we were better than most, all we needed now was to dance more.
    On the whole, dance lessons were good for us. We’ll still jump into a foxtrot when the music moves us. Even when there are other people who might see us.

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  10. but you’re a fabulous dancer! I know, we all danced together to .. it was that dirty dancing song — just great! well that ballroom stuff is totally overrated, & too precise. What you need is some delightful contra dancing! I love it. Everyone can do-si-do, swing your partner, circle to the left, and you can’t believe how much fun it is. live music. based on elegant medieval line dances — you don’t have to remember anything, because there is a “caller” constantly telling you what to do! once you master the basic 6 moves, it’s all combinations of those. 4 steps forward, 4 steps back; star circle to the left or right. so much fun! I started about 4 years ago, there’s an every tuesday night group, but …. well I’m too tired to peel myself off the couch of an evening, but I’m going back soon! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcYOIXIMfJQ

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