I read an article a while ago called “It’s Okay to Suck” by Tim Falconer. It stayed with me as I’ve always been a big believer that it’s okay—and should even be encouraged at times—to make mistakes.
It’s often through our mistakes that we learn the most. If we’re not making mistakes, it might mean that we’re not pushing ourselves to do enough.
I coach a lot of soccer and force my players to play with both feet. It’s difficult and many of them resist, but once they see someone being praised for trying a kick with their weaker foot, yet failing horribly, they will then try it.
However, the article went further than that. It wasn’t about making mistakes and learning and getting better, it was about it just being okay to do something that you’re terrible at. The article came out at the time of the release of the movie Florence Foster Jenkins, which is based on the true story of a woman who dreamed of being an opera singer despite having a terrible voice.
Falconer then traces the recent story of Nadine Cooper, who wanted to sing, but had been told that she had an awful voice. Her quest led to the formation of the Tuneless Choir, which became popular and now has hundreds of participants who all meet regularly to sing together and make a joyful noise.
The benefits of doing something that we’re not good at, argues the article, is that it is an activity free of judgment and is therefore freeing.
But I think the article missed focussing on a key element of the Jenkins’ story, as well as that of Cooper’s: the true joy that both women got out of singing. The remarkable Jenkins’ story is only possible because of why audiences still enjoyed her poor singing.
“She was exceedingly happy in her work,” wrote Robert Bager in a New York World-Telegram review of the [Jenkins’] sold-out show in 1944. “It is a pity so few artists are. And her happiness was communicated as if by magic to her listeners . . . who were stimulated to the point of audible cheering, even joyous laughter and ecstasy by the inimitable singing.”
This real joy is often evident in watching children perform or participate in sports. Given their age and inexperience, no one cares—or should care—if they’re not very good. But it’s immensely fun and satisfying to watch because the kids enjoy it so much.
I’ll never forget watching my daughters doing their first ballet recital. No one was in sync. There were no perfectly pointed toes, or gracefully flowing hands. There were even some collisions. But the big smiles were genuine—both from the performers as well as from the audience.
I see value in doing something that we’re not good at. It’s always good to try to develop new skills, and do things we suck at to keep us humble. But I see more value in really owning and celebrating the things that we enjoy. True passion for something is contagious—whether you’re good at it or not.