There’s nothing wrong with being new, inexperienced, an “amateur,” or not yet being as skilled in a domain as you’d prefer to be. Everyone starts out from that place.
One of my hobbies is high-speed go-karting. I’ve been doing it for about two years, and the person with whom I do it most frequently is one of my best friends.
Go-kart racing demands a great deal of focus and discipline. It’s easy to get out there on the track and just want to keep the accelerator aggressively jammed to the floor, and to handle the turns as they come up on you. It took me awhile to figure out that if you do that— just keep the accelerator down and don’t think a turn or two ahead— you’re going to skid, slide, lose momentum on the turns, and be frustrated because people who you’d passed on the straightaways are pulling ahead of you on the turns.
My buddy is an objectively better go-karter than I am.
In addition to being a physically smaller guy than I am (which matters, insofar as lighter karts move faster and maneuver more easily), he’s more serious about go-karting, and enjoys competitive go-karting way more than I ever will. Whereas I enjoy just getting out there and improving my own performance race after race, he takes a lot of pleasure in beating other racers on the track.
There was a brief period where our respective temperaments on the track clashed, and I found myself not enjoying karting as much with him. Mostly because, well, he kept beating my brains in on the track.
It took me a bit to realize that, as long as I kept making “which of us was coming in first” the main– or only– criterion of success out there, I would probably only get more and more frustrated. Because, realistically, if we raced ten times, he was probably going to beat me on nine of those occasions.
It didn’t matter that, between the two of us, we were usually mopping the course with every other karter out there.
It didn’t matter that I found the activity fun on a number of levels that had nothing to do with who won the race.
It didn’t matter that I’d gone, within the span of a couple years, from a complete newbie to an experienced, skilled karter who can more or less hold my own on any amateur track in the country.
All that mattered, as long as I was fixated on finish order between me and my buddy, was that one detail. And as long as that was the only thing that mattered, I was robustly unhappy.
Isn’t that insane? Allowing a hobby, something I liked, something I was reasonably good at, something that I paid money to do, to make me unhappy?
The root of a a great deal of unhappiness out there is the thought, “I SHOULD be better at this.” It gives rise to a host of other unhelpful “SHOULD” statements: “I SHOULD be better at this than that guy.” “I SHOULD be better at this BY NOW.” “I SHOULDN’T let that guy beat me.” “It’s NOT FAIR that this guy beats me.” “I CAN’T ENJOY this if I’m not winning all the time.” “It’s EMBARRASSING that I’m not better at this.”
Understand: there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be awesome at everything we do. There’s nothing wrong with taking pleasure and pride in improving our performance. The desire to be awesome at stuff we do is healthy. It drives us toward upping our game.
Where “SHOULD” statements become a problem is when they become the ONLY thing we’re focused on.
And they become a BIG problem when we decide— often arbitrarily— that we simply cannot enjoy a thing unless we’re conforming to all the SHOULD’s rattling around in our brains.
Many people get discouraged when they first pick up a hobby or skill, because they’re not yet as good as they’d prefer to be. They get this idea in their heads that they “SHOULD” be awesome at something right away— or at least as good as another person is at that thing— and, if they’re not, well, forget it.
The fact is, we’re as good at something as we are at any given moment. Whether we’re an amateur or a pro; whether we’re awesome at something or not-as-awesome-as-we’d-prefer to be. Beating ourselves up with “SHOULD” statements isn’t gong to help us out— it’s only going to drain our energy and suck the enjoyment out of the project.
Embrace the fact that you’re not as good or experienced at something as you’d prefer to be.
Don’t be embarrassed that you’re not awesome at it yet.
Don’t make comparisons with others your primary “rule” for whether or not you’re “allowed” to enjoy a thing.
The ironic thing about my go-karting? It was only when I quit gnashing my teeth at my inability to beat my buddy, and focused on mastering the fundamentals of racing— slowing down on the straightaways, accelerating and paying attention as I maneuvered through the curves, taking the time to really learn each car and each track— that I began to start to catch up with him.
Acceptance. Focus, Making little, baby-step-level improvements. That’s how we get awesome at a thing in the real world.
See you on the track.
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