real life

"Without my 'talents', I had absolutely no idea who I was. None at all."

When I was 22, I had an epiphany.

Without my ‘talents’, I had absolutely no idea who I was. None at all.

From primary school, we’re encouraged to identify what our ‘gifts’ are. To write them down on coloured pieces of paper and decorate our classroom with declarations of our own special skill set.

Our talents are distinct, we’re taught. But whether it’s ‘netball’, or ‘painting’, or ‘writing’, it is – nonetheless – our talents that define us.

My recommendation on Mamamia Out Loud this week; do something you’re bad at. Post continues below. 

With that said, when we’re kids, we’re forever doing things we’re not good at.

We go to the swimming carnival, and participate in cross country. We learn the (goddamn) recorder, and experiment with watercolours. As we move into high school, we try to learn a language, before performing an awkward monologue in drama.

We sculpt and script and write and weave.

We try and cook and camp and paint and plant.

A week could hardly go by without doing something we struggled with.

But then we move into our last years at school, and chose only the subjects we excel at. And we don’t have to do sport or art anymore. And then we might put in our University preferences. And then we embark on a degree or course or job we feel suits us, desperately wanting to do what comes easily, day in and day out.

If we’re bad at maths, that’s fine. We just drop the subject. If we’re not a great runner, just don’t run. If we can’t dance, what does it really matter?

The aim, we are taught, is to find the things we’re great at, and do them.

But where’s the space in there for failing? On purpose?

Every Sunday, I play in a mixed basketball team.

Clare at Jessie's graduation. Image supplied.

And I'm pretty bloody average.

I'm not completely hopeless. But I will never be a brilliant basketballer. I'm not playing to become the best in my team. I'm not even there - necessarily - to get better. I just play for the sake of playing.


I learn more about myself on Sunday nights than I do on Monday mornings, when I turn up to my job I intend to be great at.

I have a streak of perfectionism that, at times, can been debilitating. In the past I've abandoned pursuits as soon as it's become clear I will never be great at them.

We spend most of our lives desperately trying to avoid discomfort. We're terrified of being heartbroken or confused or furious. And you know what's extremely uncomfortable?

Being sh*t at something.

Bad at running? Run. Image via iStock.

In an interview with GQ, comedian and talk show host Stephen Colbert said, “You have to learn to love the bomb. It took me a long time to really understand what that meant. It wasn't ‘Don't worry, you'll get it next time.’ It wasn't ‘Laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you're failing.… The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you. Fear is the mind killer.”

As counter-intuitive as it might seem to pursue something that doesn't come naturally, it's the most effective way to familiarise yourself with discomfort.

And if you think about it, everything we fear comes down to a) not wanting to feel uncomfortable and b) not being in control.

Most of us are so driven by ego and pride, and that is entirely eradicated in a moment of failure. It's character building. Our true selves are found in moments of distress and uncertainty - not in accomplishment.

Who are we when we lose?

And every week at basketball, I'm reminded that when I fail, the world keeps spinning. Nothing changes. My universe does not fall in on itself.

And there is nothing more empowering.

Listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here. 

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