No Good at It

I took a drawing class through my local parks and rec department and learned that I can, in fact, draw. What I lacked was an understanding of how to look at something if I wanted to draw it.

I didn’t do this to become a serious artist and certainly not to become a professional one. I just want to be able to draw. I always have, even though I was told as a kid that I wasn’t any good at it.

I don’t know if it’s still the case — though I suspect it is — but back when I was a kid if you weren’t naturally good at something you were often told not to bother. Seems like a lot of teachers can’t be bothered with explaining things so that they make sense to those who don’t have a gift for them.

Plus, of course, art isn’t “important” because the accepted opinion is that it’s hard to make a living as an artist. So only those who are already talented are encouraged to try it and even they are rarely encouraged to take it seriously.

The fact that learning to draw can give you insight and personal satisfaction never gets considered. Just from taking this one short class I have learned so much about how to look at things as well as how to try to render them on paper.

I took up martial arts at 30. I’ve got a fourth degree black belt in Aikido and am a decent teacher. I still do a lot of Tai Chi. I spent years going to the dojo four or five times a week.

I am not a superstar and I never became a professional teacher. But movement matters to me, matters a great deal. It has nothing to do with making a living, though everything to do with who I am.

I spent much of my youth in marching band. I used to sing in church choir. I have a decent voice and can play an instrument. I am not a professional musician and I never had the urge to become one. I like to perform. I’d like to get back into making some music, just because it’s pleasurable to make music.

All these things are important, as are many other things we do in life. You don’t have to make a living from them for them to be important.

And all these things are good for your brain, good for your thinking, good for your health.

Now I am also a writer and I’m very good at it. If there’s one thing I am absolutely confident I know how to do, it’s put words on a page.

And I’m a professional writer. I made my living for years as a legal reporter and editor and I get paid for my fiction. I also do a lot of writing for free, in part because writing about stuff is how I figure things out.

In fact, I would do a lot of writing even if I wasn’t writing stories and books and blogging online, because writing is a major part of how I think.

It’s something else people can take up without having to make a career out of it.

Now I know the modern work world is complicated, with way too many people doing gig work of one kind or another. There’s a lot of push to “monetize” your hobbies to help make ends meet.

And of course people with demanding jobs and families often don’t have time for much else. I think that’s a shame, but I understand the situation.

Plus there’s all kinds of work needed to fix the problems in our society — and a lot of that work isn’t paid, either.

But we all need things in our life that we do just for their own sake, just for the pleasure of doing them.

You should probably be exposed to as many different things as possible so that you can figure out the things that you really enjoy doing. Some people knit. Some do fancy cooking. Some read deeply in one subject matter or another.

As for movement, I think it’s vastly more important for everyone to find ways of being physical in the world that they love than for anyone to become a professional dancer or athlete. We all need to move.

So it’s really important that we don’t tell people they’re no good at something. The trick is showing them how to do it so that they can do it to their own satisfaction.

It’s probably also not good to over-praise the people for whom any particular activity comes easily. In pretty much any endeavor, there will be a point where things don’t come easily anymore and the question then becomes will the person have the staying power past that point.

I notice a lot of people with talent who don’t stick with martial arts. I know a lot of people who were not particularly talented who are now high-ranking black belts and very good teachers.

The people who are gifted and stay with it when it gets tougher can be the real superstars but the rest of us can still do a lot.

Being a superstar isn’t actually very important. Mastering the skills to develop competence and personal satisfaction is.

You don’t have to be talented. You don’t even have to ever get very good, especially not at everything. You do need to do things that bring joy into your life.

So if there’s something you always wanted to try, today’s as good a time as any to do it. Sign up for a class, read a book on it, watch some videos — whatever works to get you started.

I mean, I just signed up for another drawing class, because now I’ve got some idea of what I need to learn.

2 thoughts on “No Good at It

    1. Exactly! My drawings are still pretty bad, but I see some progress. I signed up for another class. And after years of writing a senryu every morning, I have a stack of ones that are pretty good.

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