Why You Should Do the Things You’re Bad At, and Often

UPDATED: February 6, 2017
PUBLISHED: February 6, 2017

There’s a lot of argument around the idea that if you want to be successful, you should search for the “thing” that you’re good at and devote your whole self to it. Put in the 10,000 hours. Focus. And emerging from the tunnel and into the light, you will find the essence of success. To some extent, I agree. You will be successful, professionally speaking, but will you be whole at the end of it? Sure you might grasp everything there is to know about coding, but if you step back and look at the bigger picture of your life, is it complete?

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Weekdays from 9 to 6ish, I work at an office in a job that requires a lot of quality time with my laptop. Although I’m engrossed in things that I love, I admit that the majority of my day is spent focused on what is literally right in front of me, which comes with its own set of drawbacks. Like the fact that I actually need to wear glasses now to enable me to see anything at a distance with the same clarity as I can view my computer screen.

The recent notion that people unintentionally place themselves into “bubbles” with friends who share the same political and social views as themselves, shows the dangers of how easily we can lose touch with our surroundings. A specialty will surely bring you direction, but if you’re not careful, only spending time doing what you’re already good at might also come with blinders. (Cue the mental image of “that guy” at the gym who never does leg day.) You might think devoting your time to your strengths rather than your weaknesses only serves to make you that much stronger, but that’s not necessarily the case.

Studies have shown that when a right-handed person incorporates their left and less dominant hand in more everyday tasks, it increases brain activity and function; only one hemisphere is active when we use our dominant hand, but both hemispheres are activated when we use our non-dominant hand. Prominent neuroscientists Jaeggi and Buschkuehl found that practicing and expanding your working memory on a regular basis (think Sudoku or other brain games that require pattern recognition) can boost your fluid intelligence on a long-term basis. Similarly, consider sports. Many football teams now encourage their players to practice other physical activities such as yoga, even when they are not directly correlated or aligned with a linebacker’s skills. All great news for proponents of being well-rounded.

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I don’t mean to say that a professional specialty is a hindrance in any way. Rather, take the remaining time in your day, post happy hour, to work “left handed” and on tasks that will expand the base of knowledge and experiences that your specialty draws from. Because chances are, what you’re “bad” at is likely the exact thing that will bring you balance.

Numbers people: Take an art class. Fitness addicts: Practice seated meditation. Introverts: Next time you visit a coffee shop, strike up a conversation with your barista. It doesn’t matter if you suck; that’s exactly the point! My yoga instructor says in every class without fail, “If you fall out of your pose, it is a good thing because you are building new neurons to create pathways for muscle memory.” Your struggle will open doors, both mentally and physically, to new skills and a paired new perspective on problem solving and what it means to succeed at failing.

You can sneak in these “weakness-building” tasks as easily as you would vegetables into a sweet-tooth’s diet—simply one at a time. It will not come naturally, but with baby steps your I can’t do this inner monologue will slowly switch to here we go! like second nature. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but practice does make you brave. Because as you attempt to succeed at something you know you are terrible at, two things can happen: You fall short of your goal, learn a couple of ways to improve and decide to try again since, hey, you’re bad at this and Rome wasn’t built in a day. Or you hit the mark, against all odds, and swell with overwhelming feelings of pride and accomplishment. No matter the outcome, both leave you empowered, because you tried something you never thought possible.

Life shouldn’t be about being faster, smarter, better looking, richer or more liked than your neighbor. What truly counts is finding a way, however small, to be a better version of who you were yesterday. Determine how to cut through the clutter of what success means to mainstream society and define it for yourself.

Related: What Does Success Really Mean to You?

Megan Nicole O’Neal is a writer with a passion for storytelling, traveling and whenever possible, mixing the two. The UCLA alum lives in Los Angeles; more specifically westside coffee shops with equally strong wifi and dark roasts. Connect with Megan on Twitter at @megan_n_onealor her website mnoneal.com.