You Suck! And Why That Can Be a Good Thing

For the past few years I’ve been trying to learn French. It may sound weird, but I have this dream I’m working on making a reality. In 2015 I plan on going on an extended European vacation. This desire probably got its start back in 2002 when I had the pleasure of spending three weeks on business in Norway in the fall of that year. While working there I got to know some of my Norwegian colleagues quite well. One in particular would show me around Oslo, but not the well known areas frequented by tourists. He focused on lesser known parts of the city. And as he showed me around he provided background information–what changes occurred there in terms of population shifts, crime, popular spots–that allowed me a deep appreciation of the country and its people.

I had a wonderful time there. Part of what made that possible was that my colleague spoke English. It’s mandatory in Norway (and many Scandinavian countries) to learn the language at school. So with very few exceptions I was able to communicate, learn, and appreciate the country’s environment in a way that would have been more difficult had there been a language barrier to overcome.

That’s why I want to learn French, as well as brush up on my rusty Spanish. What I want to be able to not only enjoy the things that most tourists do (visiting famous landmarks, sampling the different foods, etc.) but to interact with the locals more or less on their terms as well. I want to be able to explore in much the same way that I did in Norway, to be able to take the less traveled path.

It’s been very hard. Honestly, I suck. I don’t have a natural aptitude for learning languages. No one will ever confuse me for being a Frenchmen! Yet I continue to try and gain a bit more proficiency.

I’m discussing this because there’s a school of thought that states that people should find their passion. That notion of “choosing a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life” is a powerful one. We all want to live the life that we imagine in our heads, free from (or at least highly manageable) the stress that we deal with now. Who wouldn’t?

What’s often forgotten in this quest for work related bliss is that, like anything we do, it requires a few things:

  • Ability. Simply put, do you even have the capability to do that which is your passion? In bodybuilding, experts often talk about genetics being essential for success in the sport. Certain body types are better suited than others in terms of gaining muscle mass, definition, and other desirable traits needed to be a champion in the sport. Without the proper baseline ability pursuing things that you love may be frustrating at best, and next to impossible at worst.
  • Exertion. Even things that excite and motivate you require effort, especially if you’re serious about reaching your full potential. It’s easy to motivate yourself when things come easy, and much harder when it becomes challenging. There are plenty of days where I won’t look at a language workbook or guide. 
  • Resources. Like anything worth having, following your bliss means acquiring and utilizing the right tools to support you in your goals. For me to learn French I use different online and offline tools to practice. Language websites, chat forums, voice recordings–all serve to help me improve in this area. Without these resources I couldn’t even begin to learn the language, let alone work toward proficiency.
  • Luck. Timing is everything. You can have an amazing talent that you love to utilize. Perhaps you live somewhere were your talents can’t or won’t have value. Perhaps the world isn’t ready for what you have to offer. Being in the right place at the right time matters. 
  • Patience. Making the decision to live your dream doesn’t mean that the world immediately aligns to your vision. Part of the reason I’m waiting until 2015 is because I’ve calculated that that’s how long it’ll take for me to learn the language well enough. Additionally, it also is how long it will take to save the money needed for the type of trip I want to take. 

With all of these items do you think I’m going to stop trying? No way. I may not ever become a fluent speaker but my persistence, patience, and hard work will pay off for me in the long run. I gain in many ways, such as
  • understanding and knowledge (of another language, of the value of context), 
  • appreciation of different cultures (which is so important as organizations become more global in scope and reach), 
  • in the value of being organized, 
  • as well as reinforcing my ability to plan, execute, and deliver on my goals. 

These are skills that are valued in the workplace. And while that may not always feel blissful, it does makes me proud. And while I suck now I know that, with patience, top effort, luck, and the right resources, I will suck a lot less in 2015.

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