doing things you’re bad at

In high school I had this bad habit of signing up to do things I’m not particularly gifted for in lieu of things I actually am. And even when that wasn’t a matter of signing up, it often just happened… Like when Megan and I decided to start a Girls’ Ensemble that would practice at lunchtime, and my 1 year of piano lessons made me the default accompanist, and three concerts in a row I got laryngitis and so sat mediocrely plunking at the piano and not singing at all. Or when at Notre Dame I joined Russian Ensemble and somehow ended up trying to arrange music when I have no training to that effect. Or in St. Petersburg when I joined the International Ensemble and ended up singing soprano, when I am in no way a soprano and would have had a lot more fun harmonizing.

Do you sense a pattern here?

As you may have predicted,  my latest Ensemble (that is, English Ensemble) is bringing new opportunities to do things I’m bad at. Actually, it’s bringing opportunity to do all of the aforementioned things I’m bad at: playing piano for a choir, arranging music, and singing soprano! Let’s call it a culmination.

Luckily for all of us, probably, English Ensemble is a pretty small collection: the three Americans (me, Vickie, and a professor in the IT Department who’s also here for the year), four students, and one of our colleagues from the International Department. Right now, we are preparing for a Christmas concert sometime at the end of December. The current song list consists of:

  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (so. much. fun.)
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas (literally everyone knows this song.)
  • Angels We Have Heard on High (which the choir would like to do like this, but will actually do like this)
  • Silent Night (still working on that one)
  • White Christmas (for the irony factor… there’s no dream involved in “White Christmas” here when it’s white from September through April.)

I also found some girls to play Andrews Sisters with, and we have a cool jazzy version of Winter Wonderland in the works. Photos and videos will come as I record them… but we’re not quite there yet.

I’m not quite there yet.

The fact is, I’m spending quite a lot of time working on and thinking these things, despite/because of the fact that I’m bad at them (I do it anyway, but it takes me a lot longer than it would take someone properly gifted at piano accompanying/music arranging/soprano singing). And in the end, I’m glad. I’m glad to have the choice to do something I’m bad at. I’m glad to throw myself into the deep end, to swim a little, to know that if I fail nobody’s going to drown… see, they can all swim a bit themselves. Most things in my life I’m either good at (speaking English, cleaning my bathroom),  bad at but don’t have a choice about whether to do it (speaking Russian, cooking for myself), or have to be good at because they would be giant catastrophes if I failed (teaching, walking on icy sidewalks). This is why, I think, I enjoyed sewing in high school… sure, my handiwork was pretty terrible, but I knew it wasn’t my responsibility to do it, just my desire; and it wasn’t my responsibility to do it excellently, just my far-off dream.

It’s good to have something like this in your life. I think most people call it a hobby.


One thought on “doing things you’re bad at

  1. Not doing something “well” doesn’t make it bad. Shrug off your generations obsession with achievement, and enjoy life daily. And no I won’t give you a participation ribbon if you follow my advice. Всего хорошего , Д Р


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