February 10, 2020

6 Things that happen when we’re Brave Enough to Suck Royally.


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I had never taken a pottery class in my life.

It wasn’t even offered at my high school. And so began my first foray into sucking at something big time.

Every demon imaginable took up residence in my mind, along with my lifelong task master, perfection. A few times my instructor said, “I think you should stop now,” knowing full well if I kept tinkering and trying to erase the flaws, the clay would collapse.

In one session, my mind was in such a frenzy that the pieces I put on the drying wheel flew off, hit the wall, and were destroyed. I felt like my identity went with it.

Fast-forward three months, and guess what? Out of sheer frustration and tears, I let go. I gave up having any expectations at all—what shape to make, how many attempts it would take, how high I could make the walls, how symmetrical it should be, and how much worse I was than everyone else.  All of it. I surrendered to the joy of sucking royally.

And so joyful it has become. I’ve allowed myself to be a beginner. Instead of comparing, I’ve become part of a supportive community. I’ve learned from my teachers, other students, YouTube, and my own mistakes and experimentation. I’ve learned how to “center”—the very first step in throwing clay—and navigate my pottery, and life.

My technique is better each time and I can see my own progress. I now look forward to going to the studio to immerse myself in the rich experience it is—just as it is. It’s become my therapy, meditation, artistic expression, and personal salvation.

I can laugh at myself. I get dirty—yes, life is messy!

By utterly sucking at something new, so far out of my realm of experience, I’ve become more resilient, creative, and self-accepting. The experience of failing and trying again has calmed my mind, opened my heart, and put salve on my soul.

Most of us try new things—to get out of our routine, for thrill or novelty, to expand our horizons, to indulge curiosity, or just because we want to learn and explore. It’s commendable. Useful. Beneficial. But do we really attempt things that are not only out of our comfort zones, but outside our experiential context? Things we know nothing about and have no relevant, relatable framework upon which to draw?

I mean, do we really?

If we do, every demon, shadow, fear, and neurosis shows up: Inadequacy and unworthiness. Failure. Chaos. Self-doubt. Massive discomfort, uncertainty, and groundlessness. Ego comparison—to others and to our own sense of where we think we should be, but fall short. Insidious expectations that breed performance anxiety.

And that’s just the start of what comes along with really sucking at something new. Which is why we usually don’t. Even if we say we do.

I spent 25-plus years in the marketing world creating strategies for brands in healthcare, travel/tourism, and other consumer packaged goods. I was “the sh*t” at my job. Top of my game. Wanted, appreciated, recognized, and financially rewarded.

But oh, so tired. I was burnt out from being “on” all the time, the “go to” person, the problem-solver, the fixer. For 50 to 60 hours per week, I sat at a desk, at a conference table, or on a plane.

Though I was still learning and professionally growing, my body was breaking down. I kept my heart armored and my spirit hiding.

My world was defined by client relations, communications, business, leadership, psychology, consumer motivation, presentations, board meetings, data, insights, and strategy—none of which has an ounce of value in a pottery studio.

As with my own experience with a pottery kiln, Charles Bukowski said, “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”

And so with that, here are six magical consequences that may arise when we’re brave enough to suck at something new:

1. Surrender becomes inevitable. So much is written about letting go, but it’s not always easy to do. When we’re on our knees, there’s nowhere else to go and we have no lifelines. No safe harbors. No easy buttons. Nothing to hang onto. Jumping into the abyss becomes the only option.

2. Adventure transcends feeling lost.
Without experiential context, there is no map to follow when we choose to embark on something new. It’s new territory—feeling lost and uncertain is unavoidable. Without knowing where the path leads, the only thing to do is put one foot in front of the other. We adventure into the unknown.

3. Demons can turn into daemons
. We cannot fully know ourselves without tapping into our darkness—and extreme sucking acts as a crucible for our inner-growth. It unleashes our demons at a rapid-fire clip and brings us face-to-face with them, en masse. When we are willing to go through our self-imposed boot camp, we may learn to trust our genius over our brokenness.

4. Scorecards don’t matter.
Most of us keep score. We set goals. We measure progress. We feel accomplished and proud of our achievements. This all good until we apply that to the realm of sucking. If we have no real context for our new endeavor, we’ll be forced to admit we have zero credible metrics for gauging how we’re doing.  Royally sucking teaches us how to embrace a completely blank slate and make it up as we go.

5. Self-acceptance and personal identity expand.
Being unconditionally friendly with ourselves has a lot to do with self-acceptance. If we genuinely want to improve our self-worth, we need to investigate what parts of ourselves we’re not yet able to accept. There’s nothing like putting oneself into sucking overdrive to explore this.

It’s only when we stop judging ourselves that we secure a more whole sense of who we are. Self-love grows when we recognize our weaknesses and limitations—and when this awareness in no way interferes with our ability to fully accept ourselves.

6. Connection, humility, and compassion grow.
Being brave enough to suck at something new is contagious. After describing my experience with the pottery class, my surgeon told me he had to take a class in making hair buns (for his daughter) twice because he failed the first time. Until then, I didn’t know he was a father. As he shared his story in front of his staff, I could tell they recognized his humanity, and then proceeded to offer their own accounts of the joy of sucking. 

Pema Chödron says, “Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us.” Sucking royally is both—painful and delightful beyond measure. Through it, we get to embrace it all.

Be brave enough to suck. It’ll suck. Until it doesn’t. 

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