For the Whole of Their Life.

Be Brave Enough to be Bad at Something New

Posted 23rd March 2021
By Ellie Rolfe

At the age of 62, I’ve had a lot of years inside this body. I know its capabilities and limitations, and for better or worse I know my own personality too. I’m confidently able to make a list of things that I’m good at: researching, writing, painting seascapes, procrastinating, trivia… It’s be just as easy to make up a list of the things I’m bad at: gardening, keeping in touch, remembering to vacuum, being polite to telemarketers, golf… Being bad at something generally invokes derision, laughter, criticism, and even abuse. Being good at something brings praise, gratitude and self-esteem. So how keen am I, then, to try a new thing that I might be bad at?

This is a great question. I dislike being laughed at; but I probably dislike feeling ‘stale’ even more. Spending over 30 years as a teacher presented me with lots of opportunities to move outside my comfort zone: physical challenges at school camps and sport afternoons, like high ropes courses, abseiling and indoor rock climbing; leadership challenges as a head teacher and HSC marker; relationship challenges dealing with teenagers and their many moods, stresses and concerns. I enjoy a challenge, and cheerfully admit to being successful only in some of them. And there’s the rub.

Trying new things is always a risk. And we care WAY too much about what other people think. We can either continue growing and trying new things – all the way to the grave – or we can give up, close the doors, pull down the blinds and say ‘I like everything as it is’. (The latter is never a success, of course, because the world is still growing and changing outside our doors; wait too long before going out into the world again, and we won’t recognise it.) Trying new things will inevitably lead us to some things that we’re bad at; but we can still love doing them!! I have a mate who plays guitar really well, but when he sings along with himself… he’s awful. I’m sure he’s tone deaf. And he doesn’t care, because he loves doing it, and it’s harming no-one. And I’ve learned not to care either, because I see how happy it makes him. So I encourage you to risk trying a new thing, even something you feel you’ll be bad at. It it doesn’t work out, shrug and say ‘OK’. Move on. But who knows; real joy may await you behind some of those unopened doors.

Lindsay O'Reilly


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