Nobody wants to be seen as incompetent. We all know that we have strengths and weaknesses. No one is good at everything. But if we cant be good at something, then I dont think being bad at it is appropriate second place. In my opinion, shockingly bad is the next best thing.
For example. I am so bad at ice skating that I literally cannot let go of the side. It takes me about twenty mins to pluck up the courage to step onto the ice itself, and all I do for the entire time I spend at the rink is go round and round the edge holding on with both hands and glaring at anyone in the same predicament who is in my way and stopping me getting past. A really good day is if I can let go with one hand. But this doesnt bother me. I am not embarassed to be awful at this or anything else. Awful is not really humiliating, because it generally connotes “I’ve never done this before.” In the cases where it doesnt, it is normally laughable enough to get you through the experience relatively unscathed.
Being awful, means I can look on in awe at the people who are actually better on ice than on land, exchange sympathetic glances at the equally inept visitors to the rink, and shake my head in companiable mirth at the newcomers who enter with excitement, thinking they’ll be swishing along in no time. If I were merely ‘bad’ at this particular sport, I’d just feel like everyone was looking at me wondering why on earth I’m there. Needless to say, I dont go that much, but when I do, I am truly safe in the knowledge that it looks just like it’s my first time.
Unless you are on the way up towards good, bad is not the place to be.
R is on the way to good. In pretty much everything. Where he has been inept at something, it is an obvious matter of time before the necessary wheels are clicked into place. For example, I embraced baby led weaning wholeheartedly when my son was about 7 months. Until then I basically spent twenty two out of every twenty four hour period worrying that he wasnt eating. The other two hours were spent feeling guilty that I was currently giving him milk when he wasnt eating food. (Shouldnt I be starving him so that he eats orange mush?)
The first time I gave him a piece of broccoli, he opened his mouth wide, and mashed the vegetable against the side of his face. Shockingly bad. Within a few weeks it had improved to ‘on the way to good’ where the food would enter his mouth and promptly fall out again. By 8 or 9 months, he had cracked it, and was eating 3 meals a day, plus various amouns of my own 3 meals a day.
This is his life as a baby. He is introduced to something new, and jumps in with both feet, no inhibitions. He is normally abysmal at it, but quickly progresses, with a swift pause at bad, straight onto good and then normally great. At the moment for example, he is inept at walking. He started off by taking one shaky step, grinning, and falling flat on his tush. Shockingly bad. He now takes lots of steps, but not quickly, and with his whole body shaking, looking to all the world like he is under the influence. I have no doubt that by the time is is 18 months in a few weeks, he will be running around faster than his parents.
But what are we supposed to do when they, or we, dont get to the good part?
One day, he will be awful at something, and then get slightly better. But that’s where it will stop. Whether it’s drawing or dancing or maths or public speaking, he will find a challenge that cant be overcome by repetition or us holding his hand while he does it. And there is nothing I can do about it.
There are plenty of things that I am bad at. I dont mean to the skating extent, just generally not very good. Art, Tact, Patience.. the list goes on. And my answer, probably the same as many adults, is to avoid it entirely. Just stop doing things you find really hard. For most, once school is over, this is a pretty acheivable choice. Choose a career that plays to your strengths, choose a partner and friends who bring out the best in you. No one is going to force you to mix test tubes of liquids if you arent good at chemistry, no one is going to make you lead a group when you would rather be the wallflower. Normally by the end of school, we have all developed the skills to deal with doing subjects and tasks we dont want to do, and while obviously happy to be leaving those things behind, we then carry with us the ability to get on with something we are below average at when the time arises.
Not me. Unlike most people, I made my choice to ignore my mediocre side when I was far too young. And no one really stopped me. If I didnt like maths, I just didnt go. If I didnt like authority, I just didnt listen. And so now, I hate being average at anything in grown up life, because I’ve always been able to ignore it. When something comes up, in my career, or my relationships, that I can’t laugh away by being shockingly awful at, and I cant push past the ‘okay’ and keep climbing towards great, I just dont know how to react.
But then there will be plenty more times in my life where I have to do things I dont want to do, and as I havent really built up an ability to deal with that, I dont know how to teach R either. I dont know what to say to him when he says “Why do I have to?” because I never listened to or agreed with the “Because I said so” reply.
I dont want to force my son to keep doing things that he will never be good at. Personally I dont think it’s fair, or that it does him any good. But I know that a lot of parents would say differently, would say pushing your kids builds character, and teaches them invaluable life skills.
I dont know. What I do know is that when my son is terrible at something, I will remind him of his strengths and abilities elsewhere, and where possible teach him to laugh at his own weaknesses. When he is great at something, I will be the proudest mum ever, while trying to make sure it doesnt go to his head.
It’s when he is mediocre I am worried about.