3 Ways to Try Something You’re Pretty Sure You’ll Be Terrible At
Image courtesy of Hernán Piñera

3 Ways to Try Something You’re Pretty Sure You’ll Be Terrible At

Written by Nat Smith

Topics: Creativity

We all draw when we’re little kids. If we don’t have paper, our crayons just decorate the walls, instead. At some point, though, most of us start to judge our drawings. The natural progression from there is to become frustrated and, often, give up completely. Once we get to that point and stop trying, we say that we “can’t draw.”

“Where does that belief come from? When you were a child, you drew a lot. And you were able to do it, there was never any doubt. At least until you noticed that some children were praised more often than you. You understood that for a drawing to have any value it must resemble something from reality. Your drawings didn’t, no matter how hard you tried, so with time you came to the conclusion that you couldn’t draw.”

— 10 Drawing Myths that Block Your Progress

This process also happens with many other skills and forms of expression. People often tell me they’re “not creative,” or lament that they “can’t do math.” But they create something for dinner on a daily basis, and add and subtract numbers all the time in the course of daily life.

The problem is that they’re using a singular, all-or-nothing scale to measure ability, and they feel that they don’t measure up.

As Emilie recently reminded us, there’s value in pursuing things we’re bad at and don’t get paid for. But even if you’re on board with that idea, you might still be wondering: How the heck do I motivate myself to actually try something I might be bad at? What if I embarrass myself?

 1. Embrace Mistakes

Young children communicate to the best of their ability with whatever combination of words they can string together. Adults are usually patient with them, taking time to repeat their words back until they can understand what the child is saying. We aren’t self-conscious about mistakes in our early years; we take them in stride, incorporate corrections, and move on. That’s one reason it seems as if children learn languages—and other information—easily.

The truth is, mistakes are natural. And if no one ever shamed us for what we didn’t know, we wouldn’t have a reason to get defensive about exercising abilities we haven’t yet mastered.

2. Set Aside Your Fear

When we’re afraid, we tend to make a giant and debilitating assumption. It’s an assumption so obvious that we rarely notice that we’re making it. We assume that the fear means something about what we want to do.

Instead of I can’t play the trumpet because I’m afraid or even I’m afraid to play the trumpet, but I’m going to do it anyway, what about, I want to play the trumpet and I’m afraid? They’re two independent pieces of information. One does not have to affect the other.

You can even choose a visualization technique to reduce the impact of your fear. Here’s one that I like: Imagine that you are blowing bubbles, and that each bubble represents one of your fears. One by one, take a moment to delight in the pop as you poke each bubble. This type of visualization can help you remember that fear will come and go—and that it doesn’t have to control your actions.

3. Try It for 5 Minutes

Maybe saying to yourself I’m going to draw a comic for the Puttycomp still feels like too big a challenge. That’s ok! Gather your materials, set a timer for five minutes, and give yourself permission to just give it a try. When the five minutes are up, stop and assess:

  • How did it feel?
  • What do you notice about what you’ve done?
  • Do you want to keep going? Why or why not?

Finally, give yourself a reward just for trying.

Schedule another five minutes—for now, tomorrow, or next week—and give it another go. If I’ll work on this until I finish it or I’ll spend the next hour on this project sound overwhelming, committing to five minutes at a time might feel a lot more manageable.

Remember that what you choose to do with your time is your choice. If you want to call it quits, that’s okay too!

Giving yourself permission not to finish can be liberating. Just be clear with yourself about why you want to give up. If any part of you doubts the decision, come back to the project tomorrow and give it another five minutes. You might create something wonderful—and learn something about yourself while you’re at it!

Your Turn

What’s helped you attempt a new skill? What resources do you recommend for people who are feeling scared or paralyzed about trying something new?

Nat Smith is a playwright, student, and activist. Most of her endeavors involve writing, in one form or another—from freelance writing to songwriting—but she also enjoys yoga, listening to podcasts, and doodling. You can learn about her plays at natashawrites.com.

Join me and nearly 500 other multipotentialites as we challenge ourselves to draw multipod-themed comics this month. The Puttytribe is a safe space for doing things we’re “bad” at together. (It’s also the best place to get advice, accountability, and support from others who “get” the whole multipotentialite thing.)


  1. Bob says:

    This article is spot on. I like everyone else drew every chance I could–yes, even on the walls–but in my closet! But I wanted to sketch faces realistically. So, having mastered woodcarving by reading and trying, I figured I’d used the same technique. Got a book or two, and tried the exercises. And with a bit of time, I was able to do a realistic rendering of a person’s face from a photo. So, if you want to do something, do it. But I think the key is really having the desire to do something. It’s one thing to say, I wish I could do that. But it’s much more convincing to say, I’m going to do that. So, the desire, the learning, the trying and the patience are what you need to accomplish what you want to do.

    • Emilie says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Bob. Good points about transferable skills! So many times when I explore a new medium, I find myself using skills I’ve used in the past.

  2. J2 says:

    Volunteering is a way to try something new–as long as you’re not trying to explore, say, brain surgery. Volunteering is a great way to find a mentor or two who are happy to let you spread your wings and give them a flap or two.

Leave a Comment