Permission to Suck

Craft & Design
Permission to Suck

I was rooting around for Dave Kadavy’s email when I came across a great post on his blog about giving yourself “permission to suck.” Kadavy is the author of the excellent Design for Hackers. We reviewed the book in MAKE’s current issue. We’re going to feature an excerpt from the book in the near future. For now, here’s an excerpt from his blog. It’s good reading, especially for makers. We’re big on failure at MAKE. Not as a goal, but as part of the process of making. Dave’s post begins with a story about a friend who says she sucks at meditating. His advice? Give yourself license to suck and keep on meditating. He continues:

Think about something you want to try, but are afraid of sucking at. Why are you afraid of it? It’s probably because 1) it will make you feel crappy about yourself, 2) it will make you feel crappy about what other people think of you, and 3) that will make you feel crappy about yourself.

Those are valid fears (albeit without tangible consequences), but they are terrible reasons to not do something. Here’s why you should suck:

  • Doing things you suck at can still be enjoyable. If you allow yourself to be okay with sucking, you can find bits of enjoyment in that activity. The crisp feeling of a well-struck golf shot, the satisfaction of a nailed yoga pose, or the feeling of dancing in time with a Salsa song for a moment can all be sensations that keep you coming back. Which leads me to the next reason.
  • Doing things you enjoy, can often lead to not sucking at them. If you find enjoyment in the things you suck at, you’ll do those things more, then – someday – you won’t suck at them anymore. Find a way to enjoy going to the gym (not overtraining, or by bringing a friend), or set small goals for yourself (just get yourself to the gym), and eventually you won’t suck at working out anymore.
  • One hone smooths another. It can be surprising what having varied interests – even ones that you suck at – can bring to your life. When I started taking dance lessons, I found that my typing got more accurate and fluid (seriously!). Doing yoga helped me discover that my brain works better when my muscles are stretched. It pays to nurture a Renaissance Mind.
  • Life is long, sucking is temporary. Remember my friend who couldn’t meditate? My final word of wisdom for her was “you have 40 or 50 more years to not suck at meditating. Can you give yourself permission to suck for a couple of weeks?” This is the most important reason to not be afraid to suck. If you find a way to be okay with sucking for a short time, you’ll have a whole lifetime to enjoy not sucking at that thing.
Now, what are you going to suck at?
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Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.

View more articles by Stett Holbrook