In every situation in life, there's always a way to make a tit of yourself
This may not be a new thing, this may always have been the case, but I can only talk about what I know, and it seems to me that at the moment there is enormous pressure on people, especially young people, to be good at things. And it is good to be good at things. It’s good to be ambitious, and to want to improve, and to strive to do things well. But it is also really important to understand the value of being bad at something.
Everything about our school education teaches us that, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is being good at things: getting good grades, going to a good university, being good at rounders. But why would anyone ever need to be good at rounders? The idea that being good at things is the only thing that matters is just not true. I think that’s entirely the wrong thing to be teaching everyone.
Particularly now, when the Olympics are approaching, there is a lot of focus on being proud of the people who are the best at what they do. Of course it is important to reward success and to encourage people to do well, but being good cannot be the only thing we value. If we don’t do something because we’re worried we might not be very good at it then that is such a shame, and we will never really know quite what we’re capable of.
Everyone is good at something, but absolutely no-one is good at everything. There will always be things in life that you’re bad at and if you try to avoid them then you will only be limiting yourself. We should do things despite being bad at them. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that we should occasionally do something precisely because we’re bad at it. Being bad at something is good for us.
It teaches us humility, and it shows us how strong we are. It teaches us not to give up, to have tenacity, and to put a bit of heart into whatever we do. It teaches us that it doesn’t matter if people think what we’re doing is pointless, as long as we know why we’re doing it then it will never be pointless. It teaches us that we’re capable of more than maybe we thought we were.
Because actually it’s easy to keep doing something that you’re good at, it’s very hard to be bad at it and not give up. Everyone is capable of being good at something, but not everyone has the courage to be bad at anything.
When I was at school I swam in swimming galas and ran in cross country races, and I never did well, I was always coming last. And I did give up, I stopped running and I quit the swim team, because I didn’t see the point in carrying on. It was too hard, then, to keep doing something that I was bad at, and to cope with the snide comments from the people who were good at it. But since then I’ve learnt better. It takes a lot more courage to go into a race knowing that you’re probably going to come last than it does to go in knowing that you’re probably going to come first. Now I do triathlons, and every time I enter a race I know that I’m not going to be the best, I may not even be average, but I’m still going to do it, and I’m going to be immensely proud when I cross the finish line, whether I cross it first or one hundred and first.
It would be crazy if sport was only for the people who are good at sport. It’s not, or it shouldn’t be, it should be for anyone who wants to do it. It would be crazy if we gave up on something because other people think we’re bad at it. It would be even worse if the fear of being bad at it meant we never tried it in the first place.
Of course we should be impressed by the person who comes first. But the one we should really admire is the person coming last with a smile on their face. Because that is the person with the most courage, and the most heart. That’s the person who knows it doesn’t matter if people laugh, or think they’re ridiculous, or wonder why they bothered, as long as they know that they tried and that they’ve achieved something even if no-one else agrees. That’s the person who should inspire us.
It is hard but you should never be afraid of being bad at something. Being bad at something and sticking with it will give you more confidence and more self-belief than being good at something ever will.