On Having the Courage to Suck at Things - Christine Kane

I have a friend who can’t type. She gets by, yes. And she’s turned “hunting and pecking” into an art form.

Personally, I think typing is the coolest skill ever. Sometimes when I’m typing away, this little character appears in my head and marvels at my brain machinery, at this complex finger dance that makes actual words come out on a page.

I shared this with my friend, and she looked sadly at her keypad. “No one ever told me to sign up for typing,” she said.

Me either.

In fact, I owe my typing talent to the simple fact that I sucked at Calculus.

My senior year in high school, I entered Calculus with my friends. We’d all moved through three years of math classes together. It was time for a college-level class, and I wanted to impress people and be smart, like my big brother.

But Calculus nearly killed me. I wrestled with it. I got a tutor. I tried and tried some more.

My teacher wanted me to stay in Calculus. So did my parents. And my ego.

But I dropped out.

I enrolled in a class that was on the other side of my high school. Deep in the hallways where they taught stuff like woodworking, engine repair and home economics. Where the loud noises of saws and sewing machines wouldn’t bother the smart kids as they worked on logarithm equations.

There I entered the typing classroom, tail between my legs, a failure.

And I ended up learning how to do the thing that would ultimately become the source of much of my work and success:

Writing with technology.

My friend? The one who can’t type? She told me she suffered through Calculus only to get a D.

We both laughed.

I told her I dropped out of Calculus and took typing.

Then I asked no one in particular:

“Guess which one got me further in my life?”

Which brings me to the point.

Most of us approach our businesses the same way our parents wanted us to approach school:

Be good at everything.

Even some business authors waggle their fingers at their readers, listing all kinds of crap you’re supposed to get good at in order to consider yourself a competent business owner.

So friend, let me share a piece of success advice with you:

And this comes from someone who started two crazy successful businesses from scratch with no investors. (And one of those businesses was in the cut-throat entertainment world.)

Stop trying to get good at all the things you were born to suck at.

This isn’t to say you won’t have to develop new skills as you build your business. You will.

But there will come a point when – in order to grow any more – you will have to drop out of Calculus. You will have to hand over something that feels utterly un-hand-over-able to you and your ego…

…the accounting, the books, the web design, the invoicing, the customer service, the late night emails from your clients, the one-on-one phone calls. It might even make you feel like you are giving up, or failing in some way.

Upleveling is more about what you say no to – what you stop doing – than it is about new things you start doing.

So, what do you need to drop out of so you can focus on the few areas where you’re a total rockstar?

  • Blanche Wulfekoetter

    How can I share this on my facebook page? I teach high schoolers, and I would LOVE to share the big idea to STOP! STOP trying to be Good at Everything. Step up, be courageous, “Accentuate the Positive- Eliminate the Negative -Hold on to the Affirmative and Don’t Go for Mr. InBetween. Yes, I do break out in song to encourage this courageous act.

    • Christine Kane

      Blanche – You can copy the URL in your browser – and post it on your Facebook page. Or click the FB icon above the comments. 🙂

  • Brandi Jo

    I get your updates via my old address that I check time to time, so I will subscribe with my current one now.

  • Brandi Jo

    I am a 41 yr old (as of yesterday) mother of 3 girls(19,10,&3). Yeah, I know!! I waited tables on weekends while being a full time SAHM & part time college student until I finally graduated nursing school at the age of 30. 8-8-08 was my graduation date. Long long story short, two years ago I had been solely a full time SAHM for about 4 years. On May 3 2016 I filed for divorce, got a restraining order against my husband of 15 years, & ran with only pennies in my checking acct.(my 1 yr old at the time was still breastfeeding so I have know idea how I mustered the courage). Thankfully I have a huge support system of friends & family!
    Well within 2 mths an old friend just opened a restaurant & offered me a job waiting tables( something I had sworn I would never have to do again). Then within 6 mths of leaving I was miracously on my feet again, in my own apartment & working as an inpatient psych nurse again!
    So here I am almost 2 yrs to the day of my new chapter, I’m branching out into the field of alternative healing. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone & into what I know has been my calling pretty much my whole life.
    I am excited,nervous, ready, & so curious where this will take me!
    Phew! there’s my out of the box experience.
    Oh!!! I took my 1st ever solo road trip 2 wks ago. While was sitting on a bench on the bay, I read your email about silent trips wo speaking & just needing to disconnect or connect.. However you want to look at it, and it was pretty cool that I was doing just that!
    Thank you for your insights & writings!!
    Much Love,
    Brandi Jo

  • Nicky

    I’m sure (almost) all the women in this group will agree, particularly if you do not have a partner. I need ( would love), to drop out of doing all the grocery shopping, paying all the bills, making all the meals, doing all the laundry and housework. I’m actually really, really good at all those things but my heart and passion is definitely missing and let’s face it, it does take up a few hours every single day better spent on your passion. So what does that mean if you are not at the financial place where you can hire help? Would love to hear some feedback.
    p.s. I sucked at math but really excelled at typing so guess what program I was put into….of course this really dates me……commerce. Am I greateful you bet. Cause I’m a Great entreprenuer

    • Christine Kane

      Nicky – I started hiring people for 4 and 5 hours per week when I was a musician. I wasn’t making the money I make now when I started (and even later in my music career) – but I took this to heart…and I had a personal assistant for 4 or 5 hours per week. I’ve ALWAYS had an accountant because that is non-negotiable. I’d be in jail if I turned my own stuff into the IRS…simply because i would’ve made some grave error of math or omission. I think you start small and you make sure you are doing the work that brings in the money. When the assistant was folding the socks – i was either writing a song or booking a show. I wasn’t off playing a computer game. Hope this helps!

  • Martha Duvall

    This was a great, timely article. Even being retired, I thought of a couple of things I need to drop out of! For example, saying yes to lunches with people I’m not particularly close to. I can spend my time where my heart is! Thanks for the words of advice!
    Martha Duvall

  • ally

    Hi Christine,

    Omg that makes so much sense to me. For years now, I have killed myself trying to reach an unreachable goal – that of trying to catch up to my partner with a PhD in Maths & Engineering. Ha ha! Maths was never my forte, I was very ill when my class learnt our times tables and no-one ever helped me catch up and it was too overwhelming for me to do it alone. English was what I loved. And writing. You have inspired me to finally give myself a break and say hey, it’s okay. I suck at Maths – so what? To give myself permission to be a Math-sucker (or should that be suckee? lol) and concentrate more on what I love and CAN do very well, thank you very much.
    I won’t beat myself up any longer for this so thank you! 🙂

    Ally. x

  • Kristi

    Oh, Christine! Thanks so much for your “sucking” words of encoragement! I so appreciate what you’ve said!

    I am in the throes of figuring out what’s next for me in revamping my blog/website to get it to generate income as well as better represent and showcase my different types of content (videos, photos, books, etc.)

    Currently looking for someone who would be a good mentor to let me learn over their shoulder as they do my new website.

    Very much looking forward to our bootcamp!!! And thanks for including me!

  • Wanda Steiner

    Hi. Love your message. I completely suck at posting my positions on my website and othwr social media. I am very good at building a business by doing business development and being intuitive about my clients’ needs etc. I am also good at doing workshops.

  • Debra

    Uncanny timing. I’m in this loop of trying to be great at social media and groups, focused on a lot of talk, talk, talk. But my heart longs to shine in more close-knit groups I’ve gravitated to all my life, until the internet took over. And I’m also better at connecting through art forms (writing, music, movement). I’m feeling a bit bruised from trying to make myself over to fit the current paradigms of facebook groups etc. Thank you, Christine. (On a side note, I have been listening to your albums, while vision boarding–I find the two mix very well :).

  • cindi

    Just read your latest. I love the premise of having the courage to suck on something so you can focus on the places you’re really great. Just one hesitation…

    Christine, I love the success you’ve had leading women (and men!) to progress in their business life. I was relieved to reread this piece, though, to realize that you referred to your music career as a “crazy successful business” too. It’s been a personal sadness that that you’ve stopped recording, and that Googling you focuses only on your Uplevel business. You only did one house concert for my husband and me, but you were a real favorite and I still play your music often. I recognize that songwriting and touring was probably exhausting and certainly not remunerative, and Uplevel certainly is rewarding on many levels. I just cherish the sweet-voiced woman who so often spoke for me, and who took such command on a big stage at Folk Alliance.

    Blessings to you, Christine, in all your endeavors.

    Cindi Morgan
    Endangered Folk Singer Series – Milwaukee

  • sue dawson

    It must’ve been 5 years ago that you told me in no uncertain terms: “GET A BOOKKEEPER.” I said I couldn’t afford it. You probably don’t remember what you responded, to make sure I actually did it. But I sure do. I went home and got the damn bookkeeper. Best thing I ever did. Thank you for that, and for all the other great stuff I learned from you.

    • Christine Kane

      That’s so great to read Sue! (And I’m sorry if I was a bit too, uh, pushy. 🙂 )

  • Dana Lundin

    Thanks for this post! I really needed to read this wisdom. I’m going to let go of trying to do what I am good at perfect every time and just live with my best efforts.

  • Mattie Decker

    Just to acknowledge once again your words of inspiration. (How many times I’ve given thanks for my high school typing teacher Mrs. Hyatt.) Here now what I’ve to offer.. ancient words from Lao Tsu:
    “By letting go
    It all is done.
    But when we try and try ,
    the world is then beyond salvation.”

    • Christine Kane

      Lao Tsu always has the perfect words for every situation. (And in so fewer words!) Thanks Mattie!

  • Paula

    I was struggling financially and took a part time job at a retail pharmacy chain. I worked retail over 40 years ago. Things have surely changed…and I hate it and hope to soon find something more suitable.

    • Paula

      Ps- I have always had great typing skills. Lol!

  • Allison,

    Yes guilty of wanting to do everything and no one can do it like me syndrome..lol .. but slowly learning to delegate and let go of the stuff that I suck at and it eats up my time.
    Concentrating on what I do best.

  • Carrie

    This is almost like you are describing my daughter as she goes through high school math right now. Years of tutoring, and not even close to really rocking it. Perhaps it’s due to the state switch to Common Core curriculum a few years back, but perhaps it’s due to math just not being her “thing”. She did recently earn an Award of Excellence in Small Business Enterprise class however (#proudmama)! She’s known for some time now she wants to be an business owner/entrepreneur. So when the math times get rough, we giggle together through the tears of frustration and say she can always just hire an accountant later on and rock it in her own way! Life is good. #beLove

  • Don Downs

    What a fun story! As an electrical engineering major, I had several levels of calculus in college. And yeah, it’s kind of geeky, but I enjoyed all but the first one. But I’ve got to admit, as a computer programmer for many years, and now a business owner and coach, I’ve probably used that one semester of typing I took in high school a lot more than I have calculus. And to think I only took that course because I needed a one semester course to balance out Driver’s Education…

  • Abdul Hameed

    All what you said is truth , and Do not forget that we are teachers of our sons and daughters and their are the teachers of the new generation, and they are teachers of the next generation. This is the life cycle.

  • Dr. Janet Crain

    I f you are a true people pleaser, as I am, to say”no” I want to do it my way seems almost impossible. I am the person that will sacrifice my well being to achieve another person’s expectation of me. It was Physics 2, not calculus that I could not grasp. Years later, I realized the emotional price and scars I paid for taking that class. On a road trip with my adult children, they began to discuss the 3rd ,4th and 5th dimensions. I couldn’t follow past two dimensional. All the feelings of failure, stupidity, not good enough and self hatred came rising to the surface. I forgot my strengths and began to sob. My kids did not know what was going on. The good news is after 20 years I finally was able to let go all that toxic energy and hopefully, calculate the emotional price of continuing.

  • Shelly Herman

    Yes I struggle with handing things over. I know I need to hand over my quick books and web design personally I suck at websites. Quick books I can handle I just don’t have that extra time. Thank Christine

  • Patty Deschaine

    I LOVE this post! I fought taking typing all the way through High School because my mom was trying to pigeon hole me into being a secretary like her, instead of a RN like I wanted to be. I finally took a 9 week class at the Junior College during my senior year of high school – just the basics. Mom won, she refused to let me go to the school I was accepted at for nursing, and I earned a living typing for the next 30 years – not as a secretary, but typing none the less. I feel that magical feeling when I type that you express too. I am only starting my business, but I am already contracting out my accounting (after learning how to do it myself,) and will continue contracting out everything that isn’t my genius work in order to allow me to concentrate on the main objectives of the business.

  • Embee

    I have pointed out to my kids that the only thing I can do fast it typing. I am a magical typist. I also love math and did well in high school Calculus. I enjoy checkbooks and spreadsheets and statistics. What I despise and am awful at is housework. I am slow as molasses and incredibly inefficient. It’s the dreariest thing I can think of ever doing. Also gardening. And lawn work. And household tasks of any kind: like hanging a picture on the wall. Or choosing a picture to put on the wall in the first place. I would pretty please like to drop Housework and Household Maintenance class and switch to Creative Writing class, if there is an opening, instead.

  • Valerie

    This is the best post ever. I’ve been trying to work through this sort of thing for about a year; living me for myself & not for others (especially my family).

    They don’t mean any harm, of course, but the impact it’s had on me has been too heavy & overwhelming.

    Christine, thank you for this!

  • Ramona King

    Love this post. Just thinking about this yesterday. I spend a lot of time on a lot of things I think I HAVE to do to be good enough for the service I provide others. In the meantime, my business is in stagnation because all of the “HAVE To’s” are weighing it down.

  • Geri

    I laughed at your post. I fought with my academic parents to take typing in high school…which they thought was only for non-college secretaries (which they did not want me to be). Typing I’ve used nearly every day since high school, and I have not used chemistry, biology, and the rest. Utility! 🙂 Great post.

  • Sara Chlian

    I’m dropping out of massage, which I’ve done for 15 years and doesn’t resonate with me anymore, to be a coach and do workshops! I’m trying to allow the right path to come so I can be inspired to action instead of left-braining everything.
    It’s hard to ket go of all the negative junk that takes up time and energy, but I’m committed to raising my vibration more than anything! Go me!

    • Christine Kane

      Sara – as someone who “dropped out” of being a well-established songwriter, i totally understand what you are going through… but a calling is a calling – and you can’t live your life for others’ expectations!

  • Nancy Darling

    Ha ha! Calculus was my only D at Duke University. (Actually I had a D in golf too come to think of it. I’m left handed and had to share clubs)
    Anyway-this made me feel much better! Thank you. And as soon as I can I’ll hand over all the real estate transaction and closing nitty gritty paperwork to an assistant!