Sunday, May 10, 2009

Do it badly!

I once knew a sociologist who told me most innovations (scientific, creative, business) were made by people under age 30. What a sad statistic, I thought. Why? What happens to our brains as we age?

I think it's less about what happens to our brains and ore about what happens to our beliefs. As we get older, I think we tend to specialize. We get good at certain things and excel. We prize efficiency and become impatient with bumbling. Because trying new things means making mistakes, we try fewer new things. Most people don't like to make mistakes.

My dance teacher in Los Angeles, John Hertz, used to say, "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." His words have resonated with me over the years. It took me five years of dancing once a month to learn to waltz without stepping on my own feet. I learned most from the better dancers: the ones who took the time to coach, and the ones who led by example and gave me something to strive for. I'm so grateful to the patient men who were willing to dance with a rank beginner. I know I slowed them down. My stumbling kept them from dancing at their highest level... at least, when they were dancing with me. But their examples inspire me to pass it on. When I'm paired with someone who doesn't have my experience, I remember their model of patience and kindness and do my best to come from that place.

As a rank beginner at dancing, my head sometimes filled with self-criticism. "I should be learning faster; I shouldn't be making those same mistakes by now; I should be more careful; I should concentrate more; I should relax more." At other times, I let go of the need to live up to anyone's expectations, and I found that place of persistence, curiosity, and experimentation that Richard Bandler describes as the attitude of a magician learning a trick: "That wasn't quite right; let me try it again."

Mistakes are part of learning. Good teachers support their students with patience and encouragement. Of course, there's also the challenge to improve, but correction is tempered by confidence in the student's ability. Where do we get the idea that we must do everything perfectly the first time, or if we don't get it right, we weren't meant to do it? That seems to me to be a discouraging approach.

1 comment:

Friday Mountain Writers Group said...

And there exists the possibility that the sociologist was full of shit. Right?