Getting Past Terrible

It’s a fiesta of terrible and you’re invited.

I’ve just started 4 hours per day of intensive group language lessons. I’ve kicked off a a fiesta of terrible compounded by 25 years of avoidance.

I studied Spanish for five years, and yet, I have never really used it. It’s not difficult to find people who will speak Spanish with you. I could even have done more this summer.

But I thought I had to get a lot better or I would be judged for my errors. Was I being unforgivably rude in my form choices? Was I offending an entire culture? Did I sound dumb? I let my social anxiety overrule my goal to have a life skill.

Well…welcome to embracing adolescence, 25 years later. I realized that my objective is to participate in life here, not become a Spanish professor.

The first question I asked my teacher was, when do I need to use the respectful or formal forms? (There’s no need to be purposefully rude!) Within the framework of knowing what was likely to offend a neighbor or potential client, I embraced being terrible and commenced full-on linguistic abuse.

I’m learning that, at new skills, you’re wasting time by trying not to be terrible. The only ways to be better are to lean into the stink or to pay someone else to be good at it for you.

If the second thing is not an option, find a context where you can be aggressively terrible and just do it. Sure, it’s not okay in every context — I had a translator help me set up my bank account. But anything lower risk, I’m trying to do myself.

I’m learning a lot faster by talking with people than I would if I waited until I had more academic preparation, like a better accent or wider base of verbs. No one is chasing me out of town with a fiery torch over errant conjugation.

If trying the terrible approach at work feels too risky, pick a hobby for which you think you lack aptitude. Write the Underwhelming American Novel. Buy a starter pack of LEGO Mindstorms and make sort-of functional robots. Cook the worst pastry in history.

And yes, throwing yourself into being bad at something does make other things feel like a hot mess. This week was not the ideal time to start a 4-hour daily course of heavy brain work. But, I quickly recalibrated around what suits the objectives: family, work, functional skills. I will speak better Spanish next week than I did this week, and that serves my objective.

So I’ll be over here, confusing wait staff and hurting the ears of the playground moms, all in the name of learning and improving.

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