What You Learn by Being Lousy

I went camping recently. I say that casually, as if it’s so normal for me, when it’s so not. But regardless, I went camping—legit slept in a tent, ate meat off a stick, the whole thing. I was with a big group of friends and on the agenda was a lot of boat-related activities: water sports in the morning, and chilling out on Lake Hopatcong on a pontoon in the afternoon.

I had concerns, most of which had to do with not being near land, and also I get very seasick.  Now, of course I know you can take something so you don’t get sick, and I do all of that, but I experience a pervasive unease at being in the water too long. Period.

I have a point in telling you this, and it’s not “what I did on my summer vacation.” It’s that what I learned from this one summer day is that I overestimate and underestimate what I can do, and it has to do with expertise vs. ability.

Here’s what happened

We piled into a motor boat with our salty, suntanned captain (who came with the boat), and were told we would be wake surfing—not tubing, as I’d expected. But it was basically: “Here’s a surfboard, here’s a rope, now hang on while we hit the gas pedal.” I’ve never been on a surfboard in my life, never surfed anything but the web. And let me tell you, it required far more skill than being yanked along on a rubber tube.

I first thought, “No way.” Then I watched as one friend after another got up and tried it and some of them did pretty good. Maybe it wasn’t so hard? I listened to our captain-slash-instructor go over the basics again and again: “Press down with the heels, bend your knees, engage your core, arms straight out, and let the boat pull you up.” I watched again and again, and thought, “I think I can do this.”

Wrong. Couldn’t have been more wrong. When it was finally my turn, I ate it so hard it’s laughable. I was shocked—didn’t I know after an hour and a half of watching and listening, how to do this? I knew it in my head, but when I got out there, it was as if that knowledge all went straight out the window. I had lake water up my nose, down my throat, and I had to swallow my pride along with it.

(Here’s the highlight reel of my epic wakeboard fail.)

I felt so…disappointed. But even that was silly—I had never been on a wake board in my damn life. Where on earth did I get the idea that I could just do it, first time out of the gate? My disappointment is what was so misguided–because that sense of disappointment came from this misled idea I had that I could do it, having never done it before. That’s not disappointment. That’s naivete! So now I was embarrassed over my disappointment over my failure. It was a big old downer sandwich.

My point is this

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, as they say. And in an age of instant knowledge, youtube videos, and soundbite wisdom, we can be led to believe we’re expert in a thing before our feet ever touch the ground (or water, as it were). I’m guilty of this. And likely, so are you. We mistake information for expertise. And you only get expertise by doing and trying and failing and fixing.

When I started to complain about how bad I was, my friend Michael cut me off at the pass. “Are you serious?” he said. “I’ve been doing this since I was 9 years old. I was out there every day of the summer.”

And here I am, a grown woman, expecting that because I’m what—smart? attentive? fit?—that I’m supposed to kill it out of the gate? This is not a flaw of my physical abilities. This isn’t “Terri can’t do water sports” or whatever other story I wanted to tell. This is a flaw of misplaced confidence and misguided expectation.

As Grant Cardone says in his wildly popular book, Sell or Be Sold, the number one reason people hate anything, not just sales, is because they don’t know how to do it. I was tempted to say that I hate wake surfing. But that’s not true—I hate being bad at a thing. But give me a few hundred hours out there and I could imagine loving it. If we’re being honest, I will likely spend those hours on other things.

Oh God. All Day on a Boat?

Next up: Could I handle hanging out on a pontoon boat for several hours, given my extreme seasickness. Now, we weren’t out swordfishing on the high seas. Try trailing for sunfish and eating chips while listening to Bruno Mars. When I felt a whisper of nausea, I took a Pepto, and then laid on the deck while Lake Hopatcong rocked me to sleep. And when at one point we ran out of gas, and had to wait for someone to zip us some, I didn’t panic. I felt so unruffled, so calm. “This must be what relaxing feels like,” I thought before falling back asleep.

In fact, I was sad to get off at the end of the day! And back to—what?—my tent? Had I turned into a completely different person? In some ways, maybe yes. What a difference a day makes.

It’s been said that we overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can do in a year. I can’t nail a thing out of the gate perfectly, and likely, neither can you. But we’d all do well to realize that and get past it—and recognize that it’s normal. And chances are, we can hang out there longer than we think we can.

(If you like this, check out why you shouldn’t believe my Instagram feed.)