At our weekly Couchsurfing event on Tuesday, I mentioned that I’d gone to Parc du Peyrou the previous day to read and paint.
“Watercolors,” I clarified, “I just bought them a few weeks ago.”
“Are you good?” the Polish girl immediately asked me.
“No! I just started — that would be crazy.”
After a few startled seconds, I saw the realization come to her face that my answer made sense logically.
Most of us forget this, though — that beginners start at zero, and that adults can be beginners. There seems to be this belief in the adult world that if you do something, it must mean you’re good. Or the contrary: If you’re not good, you can’t say you do something.
I see this again and again as I interact with language learners. “My English is bad” or “I can’t speak very well,” they’ll explain.
Hold up!, I tell them. You’re at some point along a very lengthy journey, and languages are seriously complex creatures. You may not be able to speak very well today, just like all learners who were once at your exact level, but you need to pass through this stage to get to the next. With repeated practice, you will improve! Every mistake or struggle is a learning opportunity.*
So whether it’s painting, speaking foreign languages, or anything in between, you can do whatever you want to do in your free time, no matter your current ability. And if you start learning a new skill, it’s completely normal and expected that you won’t be “good.”
Now you can certainly become “good” over time, since improvement is a natural result of repeated practice. But during the journey, the question to ask — both yourself and others — isn’t “Are you good at it?” but rather “Do you enjoy it?”
For me, painting with watercolors has been so fun! At this point (which is only four tiny paintings in), I don’t care what my creations look like. They’re a means for me to explore, to learn, to relax, and to get comfortable with these new materials. I’m thoroughly enjoying the process.
My takeaway from this reflection? If you’re curious to learn something new, go ahead and start where you are now. Be proud to be a beginner. The experience of learning and seeing yourself improve is exciting and rewarding, and these perks are unlike anything you’ll encounter when you’re already good at something. You’ll push your comfort zone the slightest bit wider, which ultimately brings about a satisfying feeling.
Don’t ignore your curiosities because of society’s pressures to be good, and try not to impose such expectations on others either. Everyone is in the middle of some journey, each which is uniquely carved and shaped by decades of situations, interactions, and feelings. We’re unfinished works of art who advance from encouragement to continue exploring, not from judgement on ability to meet absurd expectations.
And with that, I encourage you to keep on searching, experimenting, and learning!
*For those of you interested in learning a language with a growth mindset, here’s how to get started.
Rebecca Thering is a lifelong learner who has lived abroad in Spain, South Korea, and France. She's currently learning ukulele, French, watercolor painting, and will do her first thru-hike (the AZT) in spring of 2019. You can follow her self-improvement pursuits, slow living, creative endeavors, and more at her personal blog.