Have you ever had that moment in life where you realized you weren’t good at something?
For me, it was in sophomore year of high school.
I had just signed up for netball—a Commonwealth version of basketball where you can’t move or dribble with the ball. A few days later, I turned up to the trials, where we were assessed on our athletic abilities through a series of shooting, running, and agility drills.
I gave it my all. I thought I did pretty well and was confident that I had displayed my finest levels of athleticism.
“Surely this is enough to get me into one of the top teams,” I told myself.
The next week, the lists came out.
I made Team 13…out of 13.
Determined, I finished the season and vowed to do better next year.
I turned up to trials again, pushed as hard as I could, and implemented all my learnings from the year before.
This time I made Team 12…out of 12.
I could keep going, but you get the point. By the third year of this, I realized that if I wanted to push myself to break out from the bottom of the barrel, I needed to either:
a) step it up and dedicate myself fully, or
b) take out everyone else.
I’m not going to lie—both were in the too-hard basket, so I chose secret option C instead: stay at the bottom, make some new friends, and say goodbye to the sport when I finished high school.
All of this is to say, I learned a valuable lesson during those few years playing netball…
We can’t be good at everything
We humans have an innate drive to be good at something.
Whether it’s playing an instrument, dominating in a sport, acing math, or being great at beatboxing, we’re all searching for that thing that we’re good at. It gives us a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment to excel at something.
But for some of us—myself included—excelling in one area isn’t enough.
We want to be good…at everything.
Maybe we were told as a child that we could be anything we wanted to be. Perhaps we were put in advanced classes for everything. Or it could be that, for a long time, we were just better than all the other people around us.
Regardless of what it is, we have this expectation in our heads that everything we touch should turn to gold.
When we do come across something that we’re not good at or when we’re suddenly not the best at something, it can be insanely damaging to our self-esteem and self-worth.
This is a classic story for students who are going off to college.
You may be the best in your school at something—maybe you were the star on the football team or were consistently at the top of your class in every subject. Then, when you go to college, you suddenly discover that others are also the same: the best of the bunch in THEIR schools.
Suddenly, you’re not special anymore—everyone else is just like you.
Up until then, your entire life may have been shaped by being the best. But when you’re on an even playing field with your peers, knowing where you stand or who you are becomes challenging if you’re not “the kid who’s good at everything.”
Left unchecked, this can dip into dangerous territory. You might start telling yourself, “I’m not good at anything,” which starts chipping away at your self-worth, or you might look for other ways to overcompensate for this feeling of failure.
So what do you do when you feel like you’re not good at something?
Some unicorns are just good at everything they do (I’m looking at you, Donald Glover). But for the majority of us, this just isn’t a realistic expectation to have.
The next time you feel down because you’re not doing well at something, here are eight things you can do to check yourself and reframe the situation.
1. Stop, breathe, and re-evaluate
We as humans love to fixate on the negatives rather than the positives.
A million things can go right, but the second one thing goes wrong, we’ll hone in on that and obsess over it.
The same goes for your skills and abilities.
If you’re one of those people who is good at everything, I’m willing to bet that for every thing you’re bad at, you have 20 others that you absolutely dominate. When you’re beating yourself up about not being the best at something, stop for a second and list off all the things you are good at—and you’ll quickly see that the numbers tip in your favor.
2. Practice, practice, then practice some more
If you’re one of those people who naturally picks everything up quickly, it can be jarring to try something new and not get it straight away. This quickly leads to frustration, giving up, or even putting the blame on others as a way to rationalize not being good at something.
The actual fact of the matter is that it may just take a bit of time to pick something up and become skilled at it.
Think back to how much effort you ACTUALLY put into improving. Did you do everything you could to get better? Have you practiced and put in the work? Did you seek help from others who are further along in their journey than you are?
While you don’t have to spend 10,000 hours perfecting a craft, it’s worth at least giving yourself a few months to a year to see any noticeable improvement.
Another tip? Track your progress over time. If you’re trying to improve in a sport, record yourself. If you’re trying to improve in a subject at school, constantly revisit old problems or pieces of work. You’ll be surprised at how far you’ve come.
Related: Track Your Life: How To Change Your Life One App at a Time
3. Be patient with yourself
On that note of putting in the work, remember to keep your cool if things don’t happen straight away.
The effortless talent that you’re seeing of others around you? It’s actually the result of consistent effort over time—and you’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.
Many people pour in countless hours over months (or years) to become good at something. They don’t instantly pick it up—they’ve sacrificed plenty, failed a lot, and invested a ton of themselves into getting to where they are today.
If you’re ever in doubt, sit down with someone you admire and ask them how long they’ve been chipping away to get where they are. I guarantee that you’ll be surprised by the answer.
4. Double down on the things you are good at
When you’re worrying about being good at and improving upon a certain skill, you lose precious time that could be used to improve the areas you already excel in. After all, if you’re already good at something and enjoy it, why not spend time perfecting your craft there instead?
Sure, the progress curve might not be as steep as learning something new. But these incremental improvements will pay off multiple times in the long run.
In five years, I promise you won’t care that you didn’t spend more time playing basketball when you really liked writing, or playing the piano when you really just wanted to learn rock climbing.
5. Question yourself
Why do you want to be good at something?
There are certain skills that you might want to be good at because they’re important to you. However, this doesn’t apply to everything. Before you get upset about the stuff you’re not good at, ask yourself why it matters in the first place.
Is this something you’re deeply passionate about and want to commit yourself to? Does your future livelihood depend on it? Or is it another thing entirely?
For me, I quickly discovered that being good at things fueled my ego and self-worth.
Realizing this was a huge game-changer for me. Now, every time I beat myself up about not being good at something, I ask: is it something I actually care about or is this my ego talking?
6. Get yourself to an “MVP” state
If you were ever told that “good enough isn’t good enough,” I’m here to tell you the exact opposite.
In startups, the acronym “MVP” stands for Minimum Viable Product. It’s a product that has enough features to be usable.
The goal of this isn’t to be perfect or to be the finished result.
It’s to be just good enough to get by because done is better than perfect.
There are some instances where that’s precisely the mindset you need to be in—for example, if there’s a prerequisite course that you’re struggling with in college. In this case, your goal is to get yourself to the minimum level required to get by so you can spend your energy doing other things instead.
Let’s say you’re not doing well at math but need it for the first part of your computer science degree. Putting enough effort in to build up the fundamentals is more than enough to set the foundations—any more than that, and you’ll probably feel like you’re pulling teeth every single day.
7. Just embrace it
Not being the best at something is okay if you genuinely enjoy what you’re doing.
Read that again.
The truth is, it’s perfectly okay to enjoy an activity just for the sake of doing it rather than being the best.
You can derive plenty of other benefits from an activity, whether elevating your mood or finding new friends to connect with. When you let go of the need to “be” anything and embrace the act of doing itself, you’ll get more joy out of every moment as a result.
8. And if all else fails, let it go
Contrary to what your parents probably told you, there’s no shame in giving something up if you don’t enjoy it.
If you’re pushing yourself to be good at math or sports but not enjoying it, it’s worth re-evaluating whether it’s actually right for you.
The simple act of letting go frees up your mental real estate to focus on finding other activities that you do like instead.