What If You Aren’t Good at Something You Love?

I was recently asked to help someone in an area where I have almost no expertise. Luckily, the person understood that and asked me to help anyway. And I loved what I was doing. I mean really LOVED it.

I would go to sleep thinking about the project and wake up ready and eager to try new ideas – despite my normal slow-morning mode. Believe me…although I love the freedom of consulting, most jobs do not get my juices flowing this way.

But since this was a limited-time project and I really wasn’t very good at it (although I gave my all), I guess I can just store it as a good memory and get on with work I really know how to do…business process analysis and project management. (Did I just put you to sleep?)

But here’s a little career secret…

I had absolutely no idea how to do any of the stuff I’m good at now when I started. Sure, I had some natural abilities that helped me muddle through in the beginning, but there were many times when I was up against the unknown and just had to learn the hard way…sink or swim. And I didn’t always swim. But oh how I learned from each failure!

So here I am now, face to face with a new thing I actually love doing; and rather than seeing it as a gift, I started looking at all the obstacles. Old programming at work.  I mean how often do we get offered a first-hand chance to find a new love?

Bet some of you can relate to the “obstacles”

  • I’ll never be an expert at this and since so many others are, why bother.
  • I’m too old to take on a major learning project. (As if I haven’t taken on at least 4 or 5  jobs/projects in just the last few years that plunged me into totally new worlds!)
  • I can’t make a living at it. (Well, not yet. Duh. You have to learn how to do it well. And anyway…so what?)
  • Even if I get good at the skills, maybe my ideas aren’t worthwhile. (Oh pullease! How can you know if you never try?)

Luckily I have reached a point where, even if I start playing old programming like this, I am aware enough to catch myself doing it. That alone is a big help. Probably the most important skill I’ve picked up in the last few years. 😉

And so, I am starting to look at how to take my newly realized passion and bring it into my life in some way on a more regular basis. Already researching books and online resources as well as checking out classes at a local continuing ed program. But also looking at what aspects of this new-found love might be brought into other things I already do that, with some extra time and focus (and a little creative job morphing), could add more joy to my regular work (or play).

Deciding to take on something new

I’ve read time and again that the people who succeed big are the ones willing to put in long hours and keep going, no matter how many times they get it wrong at first. Bill Gates comes to mind. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success, he says it takes some combination of circumstance/opportunity and about 1o,000 hours to master a skill (best if started young according to Gladwell, but it’s never too late to learn new things at whatever level of achievement we reach.)

So does that mean you can simply practice acting for 10,000 hours , for instance, and win an Oscar? Or write for 10,000 hours and get a Pulitzer? Well…probably not; although someone somewhere will do just that. But even if  you don’t achieve the soaring heights of those definitions of success, you do get better and better, and that in itself can feel darn good.

And that level of commitment and dedication to something you care deeply about can also translate to other areas of your life, including your career. Each time you watch yourself succeed by improving (to whatever extent) based solely on YOUR efforts and determination, you learn to believe in yourself more – and are less likely to shy away from trying new things that add to your life. Now that’s success we all can aim for!

As for all those nasty little negative programs that run in our heads to “protect” us (i.e., keep us from taking on things with unknown outcomes), we can still, at any age, decide to take on something new (and help change that programming). Using the internet, libraries, friends, someone in the field you dare to ask for advice, formal training, good old trial and error (whatever the method), we can simply learn it to the best of our ability – which is all anyone can ever do… and certainly good enough if it’s something we truly love.

After all, if the very least that can happen is we get to spend time immersed in something wonderful. That’s a net gain any way I look at it.

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. Great post, Ronnie Ann! Regarding the age issue, I remember a scene from a movie set in the dawn-of-feminism 1970s in which a mom whose kids are grown decides to go back to college to finish the degree motherhood had interrupted. Her blue collar husband argues, “But you’ll be 54 when you graduate!” She replies, “I’ll be 54 anyway.” That message has stuck with me. Getting older doesn’t mean stop growing.

  2. Thanks for the posting. I especially enjoy the thought of trying something new- practice and it will get better. Also, trying to get around your own programming and stumbling blocks is important. Coaches are lucky that they notice this when they start to do it. It is something for everyone to be aware of, and to catch!

  3. Terrific wisdom, Ronnie Ann – I love how you personalized the story with your own recent ‘learning’ experience. You articulated so well your passion for the recent new project that ‘got your juices flowing!’

    Wow, many of us can relate to that; sometimes, though, we get so caught up in day-to-day hum-drum efforts that we lose sight of new possibilities.

    Love the ‘nasty little negative programs’ to which you refer — with your encouragement, we must work to eradicate those programs and replace them with the optimistic tenacity you passionately describe. Just say ‘yes’ to spending time immersed in something wonderful!


  4. I love this. Those ‘i can’t do it, there’s no way’ when instead we should just ‘do’ what it is we wish to do, and learn, and then maybe, do make money at it!

  5. Thanks for the great comments!

    Terry: Thanks! Love that line from the movie. Getting older definitely doesn’t mean you stop growing…in fact, studies suggest continuing to learn keeps us younger…or at least feels like it does. 😉

    Jodi: So glad you emphasized the power awareness can have. We don’t magically change our programming over night – but we certainly can begin to react differently once we recognize “there it is again!” Thanks, Jodi.

    Jacqui: Always a delight to have you visit. Love your words “optimistic tenacity”. Exactly! I think that also describes you. 😉

    Lisa: Nicely said! Thanks. Seems so simple, doesn’t it? And yet we twist ourselves inside out sometimes thinking what we instinctively are drawn to isn’t good enough.

  6. Learning new things is the best part of my job. When I get to learn new technologies, and build something completely new, thats when I am the happiest. This reminds me of a piece of advice an older gentleman gave me a few years ago. “If you love doing something, and you are good at it, there will always be someone willing to pay you to do it.”

  7. I love that Justin! Great attitude and great advice. Thanks.

  8. Cafe Patron says:

    I believe that many skills are better learned on the job than in the classroom. I question the value of many of the graduate certificate programs that universities offer nowadays.

    As you probably know, many college graduates ultimately have careers that are mostly unrelated to their major field of study.

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