Sometimes We Need To Be Told That We Suck

Image by Kenny Louie

Image by Kenny Louie

When I was at UCLA and UC San Diego, I played intercollegiate hockey.

Oooh, yeah.

Well, not really.

There is no NCAA hockey in California. It was a club-level program, and we only played other schools on the west coast (Cal, Stanford, Washington, Washington State, and so on).

The league was competitive, but nowhere near the level of play you’d see in the NCAA. No one had aspirations of ever playing professionally, and even within my own team from season to season, I was far from a star player.

Still, I took my hockeying fairly seriously (a fact belied now by my referring to it as “hockeying”). When I was on the ice, I was pretty much looking to kill someone. Anyone. Hopefully, on the opposing team. I compensated for my lack of natural talent by skating harder and just playing more intensely than everyone else.

Eventually, I developed a reputation for being a tough hitter and fearless (though some would also say reckless) physical player. I wore the reputation with pride, mostly because I was always a wee bit on the small side for a hockey player. Hey, I said I was serious about my hockeying.

And I kept that intensity up for almost a decade…. until the day one of my best friends came to a game, and afterwards, he only half-jokingly pointed out that I kinda sucked….

If you’re a fan of Calvin and Hobbes, you may have come across this inspirational quote by Bill Watterson. In it, he describes how we shouldn’t be afraid to abandon an unrewarding career and pursue our passion, specifically referring to the fact that he gave up a job as a political cartoonist to create a comic strips instead.

Now, contrast Watterson’s inspiring words with these words by actor Mike Rowe, which I can only describe as… de-spiring? Perspiring? In sharp contrast to Watterson, Rowe basically says that you shouldn’t drop everything to pursue your passion, because you just might suck at it. Instead, you should figure out what you’re good at, and turn that into your passion.

As big a fan as I am of Watterson, Rowe’s words resonated far more with me, because that’s exactly what happened to me. All through college and and grad school, I was passionate about hockey. Sure, I knew I would never have a career as a professional hockey player. But I still treated hockey as though I were an aspiring pro.

It wasn’t until my friend told me how much I sucked that I started to realize how ridiculous my mentality was.

It took a few years for the sting of the comment to wear off, but once I fully accepted that hockey would only ever be a hobby, all of a sudden, the sport became fun again. I could play hard, but I didn’t have to skate every shift with the goal of trying to take someone’s head off. I could be intense and competitive, and go out for beers with the other team afterwards.

Once I learned to treat hockey as a hobby, I found time to devote to new passions — viable interests that I could actually pursue as a career. Eventually, I landed on teaching and writing, and I found that I was actually pretty damned good at both (certainly better than I was at hockey). They were skills the 22-year-old me would never have thought he’d be passionate about.

And yet, here I am, teaching people how to use WordPress (after wrapping up eight years as a high school teacher) and blogging for all the world to see.

That’s why, looking back now, I have to thank my friend for being so blunt that random day. He was the one guy in my life who wasn’t afraid to cut my hockey ego down a few notches. And despite how awful it made me feel, it was exactly what I needed to hear.

At some point in our lives, I think most of us need to be told how much we suck, especially if we suck at something that we’re passionate about. Otherwise, we’ll end up wasting our lives pursuing a passion that we have no business pursuing, and then we miss out on something else that we could have been productively passionate about.

It’s easy to be inspired by a famous person who pursued their passions and found raging success. We read about how many times JK Rowling’s idea for a magical world of wizards was rejected, or how Tom Brady was a fourth-string quarterback in college. We see how they persevered despite the setbacks. And we think, “Wow, maybe if I just work hard enough at my passion, I can be successful like them, too.”

Well, we can’t all be JK Rowling or Tom Brady. Or Bill Watterson, or even Mike Rowe. Ultimately, these folks had talent. Tons of it. And some of us — actually, the vast majority of us — have to occupy the “sucking” end of the talent spectrum.

Talent Spectrum

And that’s why, alongside their success stories, I’m throwing in my own anecdote about an abject failure at hockey, who gave up his first passion and found others to pursue instead — and even ended up carving a career out of them.

Now, will someone please just tell me how much I suck at Words With Friends, so I can stop taking this damned game so seriously?

00-04 UCSD Ice Hockey

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  • Sir Ken Robinson says, “We all have different aptitudes and we have unique passions. The challenge is to find them because it’s in the fusion of both that we live our best lives.”

  • I mostly agree, and completely agree with Mike Rowe. I am 100% with you on that. But, I do disagree that those people you mentioned have talent, and the rest of us are the sucking end. They have talents that happen to earn them TONS of money. We have talents as well. You obviously write well, so that is a talent. Sure, it can be learned, but only so far, talent takes you from there.

    Don’t sell yourself short, because your talent doesn’t reside in the charisma to be in front of a camera, the ability to throw a football, or play hockey. Your talents are more mundane, but they are there, and you do not suck because they are more mundane.

    That, I think is the ultimate key to Rowe’s words. Everyone has talents. Everyone has interests. Find those that intersect in interesting and profitable ways and pursue them. Create your own niche where YOU are the top talent.

  • Very Insightful article you have. That type of mentality you describe takes a lot of maturity to have, and even then you have to have to strength and resolve to try other things.
    Like you had said later in the article that unfortunately most of us tend to sit on the “sucking” part of the spectrum. I feel that most people try to ignore that sort of self-reflection required to look inside a think,”Maybe I should stop this.” or “How far do I want to take this thing that I’m doing?” especially if you have Passion in it. That can be painful to think about which is why I think most people try to avoid that way of thinking and just try harder.

    I also get that the way people think vary so perhaps I’m wrong though.

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