I’m good at a bunch of things: snark, pop culture trivia, stringing words together. procrastination. But I’m also bad at many, many others: running, making the first move, spelling, resisting pastries, working in an office, and teaching seventh grade.
While it’s easy to beat yourself up for the things you’re not good at, I’ll offer you another, perhaps controversial, approach.
Embrace the bad. And learn from it. Doing so will help you figure out what you really want much, much sooner.
Look at me. By many standards, I was a bad seventh grade English teacher. While I wanted my students to learn and get inspired and start writing poems that would rival Langston Hughes, it just never happened.
Instead, teaching was HARD, my students were oft times unruly, and if given the chance (and the opportunity to get away with it), I would have probably run a few of them over with my car.
Being in the classroom taught me that it was the last place I should have been.
Did my students learn? Yes. I was able to move many of them—all struggling readers—from “far below basic” to grade level. I was also able to convince many that reading wasn’t akin to waterboarding and that it could actually be fun. And while I spent a lot of time yelling, I also had several conversations with my kids about life, the future, and what they wanted to be.
Although I believe these interactions were valuable, based on nearly every description used to measure whether or not a teacher is “good,” I failed. And that’s ok.
Sure, I could have worked my ass off to become a better teacher…on paper, one that laid the hammer of discipline down on her students instead of getting into rap battles with them (yes, this happened), but I didn’t want to.
And if I had, I wouldn’t be here right now. I wouldn’t be knee deep in following my dreams and creating the life that I want.
Had I stayed in the classroom another two or three years, leaving would have become even more difficult and I would have gotten so entrenched in my regular paycheck, good benefits, and secure pension, that I would have just resigned myself to work 20 more years and then live my life.
But I left. I wasn’t good at it anyway.
This idea—that it’s sometimes good to be bad—popped into my head as I watched Mindy Kaling admit to Conan O’Brien that she was the worst intern in the history of interns. While she should have been doing her job and making copies, getting coffee, and doing other grunt work, Kaling was following O’Brien around and studying his every move.
It paid off. At just 33 Kaling is one of Hollywood’s “it girls.” After writing for The Office, she got in front of the camera and landed a role on the show. These days she has book, her own sitcom, and a binder full of acting gigs. Kaling literally writes her own ticket and it’s due in part to the fact that she was a horrible intern and didn’t try to fix it.
While there’s a marked difference between being bad at something and wanting to fix it and being bad at something and not really caring, sometimes you have to let go of the things holding you back from achieving your goals. And yes, that includes ditching the things (or jobs or character “flaws”) you’d like to improve upon, if only you cared a little bit more.
After all, had Kaling tried harder to be the perfect worker bee and not followed her instincts she wouldn’t have learned as much as she could from Conan O’Brien. As a matter of fact, had Kaling tried her best to be a great intern, I’d wager she wouldn’t be sitting on his couch—as a guest—laughing at how bad she used to be.
Have you ever given up something you were bad at only to find that it freed you up to follow your real calling? Please leave a comment and share your experience.
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