Get Comfortable Being Bad at This

I often think of my first-ever patient. We’ll call her Callista. I was a rising senior undergraduate taking on my first practicum assignment in my university’s training clinic. Sure, I’d had volunteer placements and part-time jobs working at auditory-oral preschools for children with hearing loss since middle school, but this was the first time I was the one in charge of planning and executing therapy. I knew I was going to rock it.

Spoiler alert, dear reader — I did not rock it. I don’t remember much about that summer, but I do recall Callista bursting into tears and me frantically promising her that we could paint our fingernails during the next session if she would just. calm. down. It was not my finest clinical moment. May all the powers that be bless Callista, because if she’s a competent communicator today, it sure as heck isn’t because of anything I did that summer.

I wasn’t a great therapist that summer, and I wasn’t a great therapist by the next summer, or the one after that, either. The one thing I had on my side was my willingness to try. Not to “fake it ’til you make it,” but, in the words of social psychologist Amy Cuddy, the drive to fake it ’til you become it. Too many pre-professional students (and professionals in the field!) are scared to try something new because of the reality that most of the time when you try something new, you’re really, really bad at it for a while. I was incredibly lucky that I had so many places willing to let me volunteer, give me a part time job, or get me into clinical placements early so I had time to practice being bad at new skills before going out into the real world of solo clinical practice.

Consider the 10,000 Hour Rule popularized by Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers, which proposes that you need to do something for at least 10,000 hours before you become an expert who is able to perform a complex task naturally with skill and ease. The reality is more complicated — learning and expertise are undeniably multifactorial — but the assertion that you need lots and lots of practice to get good at something rings true. You don’t get those 10,000 hours by watching. You get them by doing. Doing a lot. Doing it badly, learning, and doing it again. And again. And again.

This week, I encourage you to be as blissfully unaware as I was (and still am!) about the limitations of my own abilities. Try something new. Paint those nails messily. Totally flub an AV technique. Put yourself out there!

Being bad is only BAD if you don’t get better.

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