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The importance of being bad.

The days in my life when I took to something like a fish in water, are probably long gone. I don’t think I’ve had one of those moments in a few years. Certainly not since I started medical school.

It’s too bad really, because I hate being bad at things. I hate it when something doesn’t make sense, and I hate it when I do a crappy job at something. I don’t have a lot of patience for improvement to happen either. I want to be good, and I want to be good now.

The truth is that becoming good, or even great at anything often requires a great deal of practice. Lots of screw-ups and criticism on how to do it better. Slowly over time, you start to get better.

In order to become good at something, you have to be willing to be bad at it, at least at first.

(as a note, I may have got some of this content from Anne Lamott. I read something similar in one of her books but cannot remember what it is exactly, nor what book it is. Just trying to be honest.)


Flowers and being rejected

When you run mission trips for teams consisting mostly of middle school students, you tend to come out with a lot of good stories at their expense, and mine.

In summer of 2011 I co-ran a summer mission experience for middle school students in the city of Dayton, OH. Each week I would lead a group of 20 or so students to different places in the city where we would serve the community and the people we could.

I’m struggling to find the words to describe the experience. Perhaps it’s just one of those things that can’t really be truly understood until you’ve done it.

One of the organizations we worked with was pretty awesome. Actually, they were all pretty awesome. Floral Blessings did a pretty cool thing for people who were living in assisted living, and extended care facilities (the current terminology for nursing homes). They took wedding flowers at the end of the wedding, and made beautiful floral arrangements to give to people who are frequently forgotten.

Each week a new group of students got to learn how to make floral arrangements, and then step out of their comfort zone by actually giving them to the residents, and then having to sit and do their best to have a conversation. There’s a pretty significant gap in the conversation material between a 12 year old and an elderly person, but I’m still proud of them for trying.

The best part of this serving opportunity was that I got to participate too! Usually I just had to supervise the students, because when I started to work they instantly stopped working.

The fifth week of the summer brought one of my favorite groups of students and we went to work with floral blessings. We made our floral arrangements and then went to go give them to the residents and sit and talk with them. I took my group of three students and after they had had a chance to talk with the residents it was my turn and we came to a room that was now the permanent home of someone who could have been my grandmother. I knocked on the door and went in and introduced myself, you know, all that normal manners stuff. When I offered this lady the beautiful flower arrangement I made (it actually was pretty good, not amazing, but pretty good), in a very flat, firm tone of voice, she said “no.” Which she confirmed when I asked her again.

I was a bit shocked so I left her to her day and let the kids laugh at me for being rejected. If I’m being honest, it bothered me a little bit. Over the next two weeks I tried again each week and got the same response. Everyone, me, the nurses, the staff, and students were puzzled. What is going on? Everyone else LOVES their flowers and this lady wants nothing to do with them.

It took us some time, but after being rejected for the third straight week (call me dense if you like), I was finally over the shock and was able to ask, “Why don’t you want any flowers when everyone else does?”

“Because they make me sneeze, I’m allergic to them.”

Yup, that’s all there was to it.

I spent three weeks getting rejected and not understanding why because I simply wasn’t asking the right questions. It turns out asking the right questions can make a big difference.