If you’re bad at something, should you still do it?

September 13, 2010

I’ve never been good at running.

Sure, I’m good at making myself run, at getting my butt out the door for a morning jog. That’s because running makes me feel good, keeps me healthy and helps me relieve stress. Plus, I do some of my best thinking while pounding the pavement or the trails.


I'm the tortoise. Not so much the hare. (Photo by N. Hewson)

But the act of running itself is not my forte. I’ve always been slow. In high school, my friends on the softball team used to make fun of me (lovingly) for moving at a snail’s pace around the bases. Until, that is, I joined the field hockey team during my senior year and ran several miles a day. That spring, when our softball coach made us run a three-miler, I kicked everyone’s butts.

When it came to sprinting, of course, I was still slow. Yet over the last decade, I’ve continued to run. My sister and I ran our first –and probably last — marathon in 2005, the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C. I run the Freihofer’s 5K Race for Women every summer I’m home. And I love running the water-line trail near my house, getting into the woods and enjoying the silence.

But during the last six months, as I trained for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half-Marathon, I found running to be less enjoyable. More difficult. Like I was dragging myself to log miles. I don’t know whether that’s because I’m about to turn 30, or because it’s been two-and-a-half years since my last half-marathon. I’m not in worse shape than last time I trained for a 13.1-miler, and I don’t have any more weight on me. But whenever I looked at my watch, my pace was significantly slower than it should’ve been.

Years ago, I aimed to finish a half-marathon in 2 hours, 15 minutes. For those of you who don’t know where that falls on the running spectrum, it’s pretty slow, about a 10:15 pace. But this time around, during my training runs, I was going even slower than that. Every time I finished a run, I’d feel disappointed in myself. Which kind of defeated the purpose of running. Because if it wasn’t making me feel good about myself, why do it?

Then I realized something: maybe I needed to readjust my expectations. Maybe I needed to expect to take longer, so I wouldn’t be disappointed when I did. Who cares if 13.1 miles takes me 20 minutes longer than it did three years ago? I’m still running a half-marathon, right?

So last weekend was the race. As expected, I set a personal record, but not the kind I wanted. I ran my slowest time ever, by far.

But barely finishing is still finishing. Each of us is good at certain things, and not so good at others. And just because I’m not great at something doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. Maybe it means the opposite, that I should continue to try, because understanding what it feels like to fail and readjust expectations and be at the back of the pack gives me character. It also helps me appreciate those things I am good at.

At the finish line.

Is there anything you do that you’re not good at? Or do you avoid the stuff in life that feels more like a challenge than an accomplishment? Can you see a benefit to powering through?

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    13 Replies to “If you’re bad at something, should you still do it?”

    • Andi says:

      That’s a great question! Hmmm… I think I probably tend to avoid the stuff that I’m not good at unless I’m super passionate about it and then I take the time to master it. Congrats on finishing the marathon, wow!

    • karen walker says:

      Yes, yes yes. Just because we’re not “good” at something doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. I’m not great at singing. I’m ok. The others I sing with have way better voices. But I bring passion and personality and the audience just smiles when I sing my songs. It took me 8 months to learn the harmony part to our signature song because I’d never sung harmony before. I’d get so frustrated. But now it feels wonderful to be able to do that. So I’m glad you are still running. It’s not about winning and losing. It’s about being and doing.

    • You’ve run a marathon, at least two half marathons, and complete an annual 5k. Are you sure that running is really something you’re “bad” at?

    • Diane says:

      I think we should do the things we want to even if we’re horrible at them. Which, as a perfectionist, has been a hard truth for me to grasp. Karen, I love your quote:

      “It’s not about winning and losing. It’s about being and doing.”

      That sums it up perfectly.

    • Matthias says:

      It takes a lot of dedication to keep up with something you’re not very good at, even if you enjoy it. I can think of things that I did give up on because I was bad at them, although I liked doing it. Writing was one of them. When you’re not good, no matter how much you enjoy doing whatever it is, it’s so easy to become frustrated.

      Although, I know of MANY people who would love to have your 10:15 time. Being in the military for 4 years, there were some in the service who couldn’t even keep a 10:15 on a 1.5 mi. run.

      Thanks for the inspiring post.

    • Alyssa says:

      Yes! Absolutely! It’s about *finishing*, not finishing perfectly. It’s character building to force ourselves to complete things we don’t excel at…

    • Jennifer says:

      Finishing what you start (whether it’s the best you’ve ever done or not) is a matter of integrity. As long as we enjoy it, even if we’re not great at it, we should keep doing it. If it brings us any measure of joy, we should continue. I’m horrible at painting, but I enjoy it whenever I have the time. I’m not spectacular at swimming, but if I could get to a pool every day, I’d be there. This is an excellent post, Alexis. Very encouraging.


    • alisha says:

      Fierce determination is a great trait to have – well done on all your runs! I did a half-marathon a few years ago and was incredibly pleased to do it in under 2 hours, 30 minutes (barely)! I enjoyed it so much more doing it slowly because, as you can tell, I’m even less of a natural runner than you.

      I’ve done lots of things I’m not good at, and frankly don’t enjoy. Mostly it’s been related to working in an office, where I didn’t have a choice but to learn how to be much more organized, process-led and collaborative. Those are things that didn’t come naturally to this free spirit but I am thankful to have cultivated. Hopefully they will serve me well now that I’m out of the office. 🙂

    • Andrea says:

      I’m so glad wrote this and are determined to be, well, less determined!

      …So long as my runs are at least 30 minutes, I’m never disappointed in them. In fact, I tell myself I’m a champion just for doing it.

      If you can describe a runner as lazy, that would be me. Because I have no goal, other than to go or to finish, I always make my goal. And thus, I save my competitive spirit for things that get me paid.

      Welcome to the world of the penguins, Lexi!

      See, “What is a penguin?” by John Bingham:


    • Simone says:

      I totally relate. I ran cross country in high school, and I sucked. I got better as time went on, but I never even got near the front of the pack. I was really slender in those days, and my coach always compared my build to the state champion’s — he thought I could be like her, that I’d just never done athletics, so I needed to train.

      Maybe I could’ve, though I sincerely doubt it. I never got to really fulfill my potential because of injuries — I still can’t run to this day, which I really regret.

      Because even though I sucked, I loved it. I loved the beauty of the trails, I loved the people I ran with, and I loved the way it cleared my head, allowed me to access thoughts I never could when I wasn’t running. Same reason I backpack and hike. I’m not athletic, and all of these things are huge challenges for me, but I wouldn’t give up those experiences for anything.

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