Give Yourself Permission To Suck: It’s The Only Way To Learn

Give Yourself Permission To Suck: It’s The Only Way To Learn

You’ve heard the refrain before: In order to master something, you have to start first, and starting involves being bad at it for a while. Author David Kadavy reminds us that it’s OK to give yourself permission to suck — if you don’t, you’ll never improve.

It’s very tempting to give up and just stop when you realise you suck. You may have heard Ira Glass’s advice for beginners, seen in the video above and also retold here at Zen Pencils. The message is that if you think you can’t do something, it’s likely that you just need to keep working to get through the barrier of sucking at it before you get good as it.

Kadavy explains it like this:

Most people don’t give themselves permission to suck. They think that there are people who are great at things (and are notable for being great at those things), and then there is them: ordinary person — and all of the ordinary people around them.

If they start trying to do something, their ordinary person friends try to push them down “why are you doing that?” “What a waste of time!” “Why don’t you just watch sitcoms and scan Facebook with your free time, fellow ordinary person?”

Unfortunately, most people give in. They can’t stand to suck.

He reminds us that there is nothing wrong with being bad at something, especially if it’s part of the process you use to learn, grow and get better. No one is ever a master at anything the first time they try it, even if they have a talent for it. At the end of the day, doing things you’re not that great at — but wish you were — eventually leads you to being better at them. More importantly, it can be fun and rewarding in itself to master something you’ve always wanted to master.

Plus, the more frequently you make that climb from knowing nothing to knowing something, the easier it is the next time you want to try something new. So give yourself permission to suck, even if other people around you think you’re wasting your time. Learning a skill takes time, and you’ll suck at them for a while, but you’ll eventually have your whole life to enjoy the benefits.

Permission to Suck []


  • +1.

    I STILL remember something said to me during my first job in computing at school, many years ago, when I worked at the student helpdesk. By this point, I’d been on the job about 2 years, having started during my first year due to my PC knowledge (despite a near complete lack of all other knowledge required for the job). I was winning awards and scholarships for my work. And someone came up to me for help with a program, I helped them, and they commented that I’d sure gotten really good at this in just a couple years – starting as a freshman newbie who had to refer most questions to someone else, and now being someone who could solve any problem a student or professor brought to me, to the extent that people found out my schedule and worked in the labs when I’d be on duty because they knew they’d never get stuck.

    IE, when I started, I sucked at much of the work. But within a couple years, I was the go-to person for those things, because I kept persisting at sucking at it and learning from my mistakes.

    Today I’m known for being fearless about constructive criticism and the rather public humiliation of sucking at something visible to others (which sometimes spawns comments, and sometimes does not) because it often gives me a competitive advantage over peers, due to the pace of learning I get and the fact that others aren’t as willing to put themselves out there to get that learning. The one rule is that people if people comment, they can’t just tell me that my results suck, they have to tell me why, so that I can action the feedback. (See: entrepreneurial strategy of “fail fast” to adjust strategy/goals, and avoid wasting time.)

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