Why You Should Pursue Things You’re Bad at and Don’t Get Paid For
Photo courtesy of Pauline Balba.

Why You Should Pursue Things You’re Bad at and Don’t Get Paid For

Written by Emilie

Topics: Learning

“Oh Sophie, it’s beeeautiful!” I exclaimed, admiring the yellow pipe cleaner wrapped around a ball of aluminum foil attached to my friend’s ring finger.

The audience laughed. I didn’t. I stayed in character.

A few lines later and it was my turn to kick off the song:

“Honey honey, how he thrills me…”

In case you can’t tell, I just got home from music camp.

It’s one of the Western Hemisphere’s best-kept secrets, a place called CAMMAC, nestled on a lake, a few hours outside of Montreal. It’s music camp for adults, kids, teens, everybody, and it’s magical. I went for a week or two every summer growing up, and this year I returned with my mom (who has continued to go year after year). It was Broadway Week and we put on a shortened version of Mamma Mia.

Musical theatre isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I received the “the world needs introverts but on stage you have to GO BIGGER” speech more than once last week. I appreciated being gently pushed and encouraged though. Because at the final concert, when I WENT BIG and nailed my part, I felt awesome. Truly. Like the best thing I’d ever done.

Trying New Things as an Adult Can Be Scary

CAMMAC is a camp for amateur musicians and there were a lot of older people in the broadway class who were probably more uncomfortable than I was.

I think it gets scarier to try new things as you get older. Kids fumble and we think it’s cute, natural and expected. But as adults, we don’t want to look foolish. Most of us want to stay comfortably within the zones in which we’re adept and accomplished.

The problem is that doing new things and risking looking like an idiot is where the magic lies. Because when you nail it, when you belt out that show tune or launch the website you coded yourself or organize your first festival, you feel alive. Not to mention research shows that doing things you’re bad at (i.e. generalized learning) helps prevent cognitive decline.

Valuing the Things that Don’t Make Money

An unfortunate message that most of us receive is that profit = value. Or rather that profitable activities are more valuable than the things we do just for fun.

We need to pay the bills and meet our financial responsibilities, of course. That’s a given. But it’s okay to pursue an activity just for fun, because it enriches your life or challenges you or feels meaningful. The things we pursue “just for fun” are important.

The Need for Supportive Community

It’s so much easier to pursue new things when we’re in a supportive environment. I think this is really the magic of CAMMAC. No one’s going to laugh at you, everyone will encourage you, and if I had completely messed up my lines on stage? I guarantee you no one would have cared.

I try to foster this kind of support and encouragement in the Puttytribe. Our puttypeep are trying new things all the time: putting their drawings on Instagram for the first time, launching their first business, going on their first big trip around the world. Having friends to root for you and provide guidance when requested is essential. It makes everything easier.

So, in Sum:

  1. Being terrible or awkward as you pursue something new and challenging is okay healthy.
  2. It’s okay to do things just for fun or because it is personally meaningful. An activity doesn’t have to be profitable to be valuable.
  3. Stepping out of your comfort zone is easier in a supportive environment, so find yourself some community! That might be camp, a group of friends, the Puttytribe or some other place where you can fully be yourself.

Your Turn

Have you ever tried something that didn’t come naturally or that seemed really out of the norm for you, that you ended up LOVING? Share your story in the comments below.

Emilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites build lives and careers around ALL their interests. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is the author of How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up. Learn more about Emilie here.


  1. Tiere Matenga Riki says:

    Kia ora Emilie

    Thank you for your wonderful reminder.

    You have also triggered an idea for similar opportunities for our youth here in New Zealand.

    Nga mihi mahana

  2. YES! When I left the corporate world 4 1/2 years ago, I wanted to rediscover my creative side (whatever that meant). A friend invited me to her watercolor workshop group. I was really intimidated and concerned that I would be judged. That was not the case. I was surrounded by a group of very supportive women who kept encouraging me. What I learned is that I can draw and paint. It doesn’t come easy for me, though I love to create art for friends as gifts. I also love to sing (not well) and joined a rock choir. I love the idea of music camp and am going to check it out.


    • Emilie says:

      That’s beautiful, Susan! I’m thinking about starting up an a capella group even though I definitely don’t feel “qualified.” Cause who cares.

      And yeah, check out CAMMAC! It’s like my favourite place in the world. :)

  3. Greg says:

    Personally, I’d love to perform more music publicly (outside of just for friends around a campfire), but am Terrified of looking bad. I actually think I’m pretty decent though, just shy. I do think about exploring this area of my life more, but it’s just so hard to simply find the free time outside of working a “bill-paying” job, commuting home, making dinner, running errands etc etc. Damn, I’m tired…what’s on Netflix? It is absolutely extremely important to dedicate our time to pursuits that may not make $$$, but are obviously fun and of great value to our souls. Got to find that intersection between art and making a living somehow!

    • Emilie says:

      Yup, it’s always a balance. Maybe there’s some small commitment you can make/action you can take. What about an open mic night at a laid back bar nearby?

  4. Mei says:

    Reading about Multipotientialites’ giving it a go at new things does hit home for me. I seek out new things to do and seem to excel at this stage. An example is nailing it bowling and my first book design won a book award. However, maintaining this momentum is harder. Maybe I try too hard or trying to relplicate the first methology takes away the thrill and novelty or boredom? Does anyone else have this happen to them or offer another insight as i would like to beat my husband at bowling again.

    • Emilie says:


      I can relate to this, and I think it’s okay to try something once, nail it and then move on. I feel like I pretty much did that with my TED talk. I have no interest in giving another one. Barbara Sher says we move on once we’ve gotten what we came for, so maybe ‘what we came for’ in this context is the completion of a small project or some small sense of mastery. You also might be interested in Robert Twigger’s idea of micromastery. That blew my mind a little.

  5. Larissa Lim says:

    I have been writing poetry for a few years, but it’s all very personal poetry that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing. A friend recently invited me to his poetry retreat with a successful poet and maybe eight of our friends (he happened to know this guy well), but I originally didn’t want to go. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to write well. I also didn’t really understand yet that poetry doesn’t have to be personal- it can be completely fictional. So I went and ended up loving it, and even wrote more than I expected- 15+ poems! I was even more excited at the fact that I was proud of my poetry because it was good!

  6. Debby Woods says:

    Hello Emile,

    What a great idea you have…Yes, trying new things as an adult is scary. and putting it all out for the rest of the world to see– is even harder. But at the same time, it can be tons of fun.

    I heard that if you write and publish a book, you should blog. I actually laughed at this, out loud! When my website was finished my designer put ‘blog’ as a tab at the top next to author. I went ‘live’ this past February. My posts have gotten better since the first one I published. I love it so much, it’s the reason I wake up in the morning.

    I didn’t start out to make money either. That might come in the future. For right now, this moment, I can’t believe that I would ever have this much fun.

    Thanks, Debby Woods

  7. Kristina says:

    I woke up next to a handsome man, who told me I should learn how to fly. I laughed and said never! Under normal circumstances that would have been the end of a brief swipe and match episode. But as he took off to the other side of the world, I was left with the determination to show how far I would go for him. So I went to our local airfield and despite my (just recently overcome) fear of flying, I climbed into the cockpit of a glider. I loved and hated it. One and a half years later, I am still flying gliders. I certainly do not have a talent, when it comes to soaring – but the feeling of freedom and of breaking down the narrow boundaries of my comfort zone is worth every second of anxiety.

  8. Lianna says:

    Dear Emilie,

    I completely agree that it is an unfortunate message that only profitable things are valuable.

    I like identifying the things that scare me and then targeting them as challenges for the year. Then when I break through them I feel “truly awesome” like my soul is on fire!

    This past year, I decided I did not want a fear of public speaking to ever hold me back. So I joined Toastmasters, a public speaking club. Every speech I have given has been a fantastic experience. Its like I’m opening a whole new dimension to myself that had been previously hidden.

    I wonder how we can nurture this curiosity culturally, especially if what holds people back is fear of being shamed or ridiculed for being “bad at it”?

    • Emilie says:


      That’s cool! I did Toastmasters for a while and enjoyed it. I think the way to nurture curiosity is by seeking out supportive environments. That’s what you did when you went to Toastmasters. We might not be able to make the whole world instantly become kind and open-minded, but you can certainly find and cultivate that in smaller groups.

  9. Ritika Rastogi says:

    I am 24 years old and I have recently started a post graduate diploma in economics. It has been 3 weeks since the course started but I am struggling to cope up because, my post graduation subject is not the sam as my under graduation subject, I have been out of touch with academics for past 4 years and most of my classmates are younger and hava competitive advantage over me.

    Becuase I am older, i feel the need to be better than my classmates. but i know it is irrational pressure i am putting on myself so i t try to consciously not think like that.
    Also, i have made a group of friends who are very supportive . that definitely helps :)

    • Emilie says:


      Good for you! That can’t be easy. I know you’re struggling now but I bet the material will start to click over the next couple months. Also, I often found that the older students in class (usually people returning after several years off) ended up taking the classes more seriously and doing better in the end. It’s more of an intentional choice when you return to school vs some kid who is just going to school because it’s what’s expected of them.

      Good luck and enjoy!

  10. Gabriela says:

    This is great. I love learning and I met someone once who said her husband and her mad a pact after getting married (25 years ago) to learn something new every year. I could tell she was ready to make mistakes and really dive into something new. It was wonderful to see.

  11. Ryan says:

    It’s refreshing and amazing to read the genuine honest posts on this subject! Great job everyone! I think a lot of us, myself included, get caught up on the value of doing something…we try to quantify or put a price on something that maybe doesn’t hold value to anyone other than ourselves.

    There are some experiences that only require a time investment whereas others (i.e. furthering education or starting a business) may require substantial financial outlay. So, how should we value these? Did the experience enrich our lives? Did it educate us or help us learn a new skill? Well, what is the value of that? Certainly an employer can tell you what you skill is worth based on what we’re offered to work there, but I think we can tell for ourselves what an experience i worth to each of us. It’s personal. In the end we own it.

    Myself, I’ve been reading and writng small pieces of poetry. My goddaughter will graduate from high school next year. She’s the one true love of my life! I’m working on an epic poem as part of her graduation present. If I find myself stuck, I’ll look into poetry writng workshops. The check I give her or the stack of deceased presidents will have greater monetary value to the outside world. However, the day will come when she won’t remember the amount I gave, but she’ll always remember “The Miracle of Taylor!”

  12. Joanne says:

    God Emilie, you have no idea how much your TED talk meant to me personally. In fact, despite my liberal arts background, I signed up for Front-end development class to actually make my long time dream come true. It’s definitely challenging in many ways, but I realize that sometimes money can’t make you happy. Besides, I am a recent grad so it makes more sense that I am trying out new stuff now. Seriously, your one speech changed the way I see myself, so thank you, thank you, thank you.

Leave a Comment