woman waist deep in ocean holding surfboard

Permission to suck: the mind shift you need to live a more exciting life

Mar 26, 2018 | Adventure, Lifestyle


When is the last time you took up a new hobby? Tried a new sport? Or did something outside your comfort zone?

Has it been awhile? Why is that?

As kids, we are expected to be terrible at things. Have you watched a 2-year-old try to put their pants on by themselves? They are awful at it, but they don’t care. Noone expects them to be good at it, and we celebrate every small win. Toddlers embrace every new adventure and task with gusto.

But as adults, we tend to stop trying new things. Why? Maybe after years of trying to get “good” at life (school, relationships, careers), we finally feel competent at many things in life. Why in the hell would you want to return to feeling uncomfortable or incompetent again? So you stick to what you know. 

For most of us the reasons we don’t try new things include:

1. Fear of the unknown

2. Fear of looking foolish or awkward

3. Being uncomfortable with not being good at something

4. Intimidation of the gear or technical jargon of a new sport or activity

These are all valid reasons, but they cause us to forgo hobbies and experiences that are worth having. And as a result, we miss out on many of the benefits associated with trying new things.

Want to try new things? Try adopting this mindset. 

On a recent episode of Gretchen Rubin’s podcast, Happier, the New York Times Best-selling author and her sister encouraged listeners to give themselves permission to “do something badly.

By this, they mean don’t let the need to do something well prevent you from doing it at all.

Gretchen shared that she has given herself permission to make “bad” family photo albums. She doesn’t edit or caption the photos before getting the book printed up, and she writes in captions later with a sharpie.

They aren’t pretty, but they are done. And done is better than not having them at all. If she felt pressure to make them pretty and sophisticated, they most likely would never get made. 

This thought resonated with me on another level. As adults, do we forgo trying new sports or activities because we don’t want to be bad at them?

By the time we hit 30 years old, have we become uncomfortable with the “uncomfortableness” that comes with trying a new sport? And what if we removed the expectation to be good at something? What if we gave ourselves permission to suck?

I want to challenge you to give yourself permission to suck. Take on a new activity and remove all expectations for yourself to have to do it well. Don’t let the fear and pressure to be “good” at something hold you back from trying. 

Why you should try new things:


1. You might discover an unknown passion or talent.

A good friend of my husband took up surfing in his forties. Now in his mid-sixties, he still surfs more days than not and I can’t imagine him not being a surfer. It is a core part of his personality.


2. Importance of being uncomfortable.

There is great value in getting outside your comfort zone, whether it is traveling to a country with a very different culture, giving a speech if you hate public speaking or jumping on a board and paddling out to sea. Pushing yourself to be uncomfortable broadens your experiences, grows confidence, and increases your capacity to embrace other challenges in life.


3. Physical benefits.

Trying a new sport has great physical benefits, even if you already exercise regularly. Paddleboarding uses many stabilizer muscles that even very fit athletes likely don’t use often. And there is some evidence that learning a new sport can be good for your brain too.

4. Fight boredom.

Let’s face it, many of us adults tend to get stuck in a work-chores-Netflix rut. Trying a new sport can be like a mini-vacation. It gives us an opportunity to shake things up and feel alive and motivated again.

Even if you are unable to travel, take a look at the opportunities available in your hometown. I bet there are several you can take advantage of.

Hesitant to try a new water sport?

Here are a few tips if you want to learn to surf, kayak or SUP.


1. Take a lesson.

In an introductory lesson, you will learn the basics including how to get on and off your board or kayak without falling in, the correct way to hold your paddle, and basic ocean safety.

This is a great way to remove a lot of the fear around trying something new and give you confidence. There are classes and surf shops in any beach or lakeside town, so I’m certain you can find a place near you. 

If you are more comfortable looking silly in front of people of your same gender— sign up for a women’s only class (or men’s only, although these are less likely to exist).

If you prefer to look silly in front of the minimal number of people possible—opt for a private lesson. 


2. Get together with a friend or small group and do it together.

It is more fun and less intimidating if you have a partner in crime and someone who you can laugh with. Make a commitment that you will focus on having fun and being awful at the new activity.


3. Try the new activity at least 3+ times before quitting.

Ideally, if you can do it several days in a row (ala a week vacay in Hawaii) you will be amazed how much better you are on day 3 compared to day 1. If that’s not possible, sign up for a package of classes so that you will be more likely to return a few weeks later.

I recall learning to snowboard years ago. I spent day 1 on my bum, convinced I would never figure it out. By day 3 and 4, I was extremely sore, but I was cruising down the runs with ease.


4. Do a little research before you go.

Often we are intimidated by the equipment and jargon that surrounds a new sport. I often joke that I don’t want to learn to sail because I’d have to learn a whole new language. Learn some of the basic terms and the main gear so that you are less intimidated by things you may not understand.

5. Ask for help.

For sports like paddling and kayaking, the gear is large and awkward. If you don’t think you can lift the board or get it on your car – ask for help. If you are renting boards from a shop they will gladly help you get the board secured on your car for you.


6. Most importantly, give yourself permission to suck.

Don’t let the need to do something well stop you from doing something! Embrace your inner toddler and just do it. (Wearing a tutu and rainboots is optional). What’s the worst that could happen? That you suck? Mission accomplished!

I plan to implement this advice for myself.  I rarely practice my buoy turns when I paddle my SUP board because I know I am not very good at them. (note – A buoy turn is when you move to the back of your SUP board, get the nose of the board out of the water and turn quickly.)  My challenge to myself this summer is to embrace that I am terrible at buoy turns and commit to trying them everytime I paddle. And you know what, I expect that I’ll get much better at them!

What will you give yourself permission to suck at? Tell me in the comments below.

ocean lover!

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