Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Looking Stupid

While on vacation, I tried wakeboarding for the first time in my entire life. In fact, it was my first time on a boat like that. My first time tubing. Yes, I'm 26. Shut up.

My wakeboarding pretty much consisted of me getting pulled by the boat, trying to stand, and then falling. Then I'd get to float in the water while they pulled the boat around so I could try (and fail) again. I didn't get up. I probably looked like an idiot. But I tried.

For me, that was the most important part.

You see, one of my major goals as a teenager was to avoid looking stupid at all costs. I'm not kidding. I didn't dance or sing in public because I didn't want to look stupid. Even if I knew the answer to a question, I didn't raise my hand in case I was wrong and didn't know it. I didn't make small talk or try to meet people for fear I'd sound like an idiot.

I never, ever tried anything new because I'd look stupid if I didn't get it right immediately. I mean, I live in Utah—some of the best snow on the continent—and I've still never tried skiing or snowboarding, etc.

I'm not proud of this, but it's the truth. I think it's the truth for a lot of people. Even now I still have lingering fears:

I'll make a fool of myself.

I'll fall on my face.

I'll never be good at anything.

People will laugh.

Everyone will stare at me.

They'll think I'm stupid.

But here's the thing—if you want to learn or grow or gain skill in anything you have to look stupid at some point. It's part of the process. Of course you don't know how to do it at first. Of course you're going to make mistakes. Yes, you ARE a n00b.

We were all once "n00bs," which is why it drives me crazy to see supposed n00bs treated harshly. So what if someone is brand new to writing, blogging, drawing, running, cooking, etc? Does that give us a right to laugh at their mistakes—some of the same mistakes we've made on our journeys? Who's to say they won't surpass us in time?

I'm not saying this for any reason except that I've been thinking about it since trying wakeboarding. Why did I find the courage to try? I knew Kasie and Jared wouldn't make fun of me, even if all I did was fall. And every time I did, they told me I was doing a good job, even though both of them were more seasoned and skilled. I can't tell you how grateful I am for that. Because with them I didn't feel stupid, even though all I did was mess up.

It reminded me that I always want to be that way—I want to be there for people who are learning. I don't want to be the person who intimidates or criticizes or otherwise makes a beginner feel like they should give up. I want to encourage and teach and help. I want everyone to feel like they can master something if they just practice, because it's true. Some may take more practice than others (hi, 12 finished "novels" here), some may take less.

In the end, trying is what matters. Trying is the only way to get better—the only way to eventually not look stupid. And it's much easier to try when people are cheering you on instead of laughing.


  1. Exactly! I mean, LeBron couldn't always shoot a 3-pointer, right? He was a tiny kid in giant shoes with two left hands at some point, too. And now look at 'im!

    You have such a beautiful attitude, Natalie. And you ARE a teacher, an encourage-r, a helper. Thank you.

    And props for trying wakeboarding!

  2. I've never tried to ski or wakeboard either, and I'm 35 and have lived my entire life around lakes. I also never raised my hand in class even when I knew the answer. I REALLY wanted to, but just couldn't make myself do it.

    I let my friend read some of my WIP, but even though she was very encouraging I haven't let her (or anyone else) read any more of it. I would hate to showcase how unskilled I really am.

    I love your posts, BTW! Thanks for sharing with us!

  3. This is a hard pill to swallow. I have to admit I am very much the same way now, afraid to try new things because of how stupid I'll look. But you're right! Everyone starts off as a beginner and some of us take a little longer than others to get it right.

    And ditto to what Kristan said--you already encourage and teach and help so much already! :)

  4. What a great post - thanks for being willing to share your stumbles - this reminded me of the principle of deliberate or deep practice.

  5. Yes, let's cheer on the beginners.

    I'm learning clarinet and two things have helped me. One is that I find it really funny when I mess up - which was all the time at first. Mind you, it's even harder to play clarinet when you're laughing your head off.

    The other help are my family, who tell me I'm doing great and I'm improving - even when all they could say at first was "Wow, you made it make a noise!" (Yes, I was that bad when I started.)

    I'm glad you had fun and had a go. I love your posts.

  6. What a great attitude to have! I was the same as a teen, avoiding looking stupid at all costs. But I see now how limiting that is, and how many potentially eye-opening experiences I missed out on.

    Good post!

  7. Define stupid is the attitude I began when I found out public speaking would be in my life once a week bi-monthly for a whole year and I had no choice in the matter. It's weird what you think others will see as stupid instead others think you're brave/cool/etc. for doing.

    Bravo to the people like Kasie and Jared who know how to give the right boost. So hard to know you're messing up but not feel stupid.

  8. Excellent! I think everyone from kids to us "older adults" needs to read this. I remember back when I was a teenager (when I ran with dinosaurs and wrote my stories on stone tablets) that I was afraid to do anything, afraid that I'd be laughed at and made a fool of. But as you said, everyone is a beginner at something, one time or another, and secondly this is how we grow. We can't let our fears paralyze us.

  9. I SO identify with this! I always tell people that I'm shy, but I think a large part of it is not wanting to look or sound stupid. But I am learning that most people are much nicer than I give them credit for and they're not thinking the nasty things I think they are:) (Do I sound stupid for saying that?)

  10. Hi Natalie! I've been reading your blog for a while now - I love your posts!

    I just started blogging about a week ago. And to be honest, I've written several posts without telling anyone about it for fear of just that - maybe people will think it's dumb, or I'll make some glaring error that all you veteran bloggers know about.

    But today I did the terrifying - I sent the link to my friends. It was definitely scary to put myself out there. But they loved it! They were so encouraging, and also gave good advice about what works and what doesn't. It's really not about whether you look stupid or not; it's about whether you try or not.

    Thanks for the uplift!

  11. Definitely! At least with writing, you can hide your first couple tries though. :)

    I think fear of falling flat may have stopped many a potential author from finishing a book.

  12. I think everyone's afraid of looking stupid, to a greater or lesser extent. I know I am--not paralyzingly so, but enough that I prefer to try new things in private. Or with complete strangers who I know I'm never going to see or talk to again.

    What I think we all tend to forget is that, though there are some people who laugh when you fall, most people do remember what being a n00b was like. I know I do in a lot of areas (unfortunately.)

  13. "So what if someone is brand new to writing, blogging, drawing, running, cooking, etc? Does that give us a right to laugh at their mistakes—some of the same mistakes we've made on our journeys?"

    I see that a lot on the internet. I've done it. I think it's the whole human comparison thing--the desire to prove that we're not on the bottom by pointing out those who are.

    I mean, when I read a query making rookie mistakes, I want to laugh at how "stupid" it is...completely forgetting that I made all those mistakes myself at one point.

    Maybe, too, it's a way to get a kind of pathetic revenge on those who laughed at us? Whatever it is, you've reminded me to stop.

  14. Dude, wakeboarding is tough. I never was able to get up either.

    Excellent post.

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  16. I love this post, Natalie, thank you. It's a good reminder to be gentle not only with ourselves but with others. Trying anything new takes a lot of courage and strength. It sounds like you had a lot of fun!

  17. Awesome post. And for the record, everyone, she didn't look stupid. She looked pretty awesome out there. And I was grinning like a proud mother. :)

  18. I feel ya Natalie, I'm the same way about sports. Even when people are playing wiffle ball just for fun, I have to force myself to join because I don't think I'm good at them. I don't care if people laugh at me, it's that silence that means "Oh my god she sucks so bad I can't even say anything and why oh why did I pick her from my team?" that kills me.

    As a result, I also try to be super light and friendly when people are trying stuff that I am good at (like, ummmm, singing the 50 nifty united states song?). It's that whole Golden Rule thing.