I recently took up mobile filmmaking.
Making videos is a bit out of left field for me—I’ve never been interested in film except as an audience member (or a screenwriter at most). Regardless, I got a gimbal for Christmas, bought some Moment lenses, and even got a mic. The whole shebang. I’ve decided to try my hand at making short little diary videos, maybe even vlog.
Just so you know, I have zero experience editing or filming. Like, absolutely zero. I never even made slideshows in iMovie or Windows Media Player or whatever, back when that was a thing. Still, I thought I could get the hang of editing pretty quickly. After all, I like watching YouTube videos of film students breaking down scenes and stuff.
I was so wrong.
Everything I put together looks stiff and hackneyed! I have no idea how to color correct or color grade, and everything I make looks bad! I thought my experience in comics would give me a head start on framing, but framing movement is so wildly different than framing a static image!
The whole film and editing thing is so much harder than I was prepared for, but this is exactly what I want right now. That’s because being bad at something is a good thing for me creatively. And it might be good for you too.
The Curse of the Side Gig
For many of us raised on social media, there’s this weird pressure it puts on us. If you dabble in something, whether it’s photography or portrait painting or macrame, a lot of us feel this pressure to document that hobby. Some of us even feel the need to monetize it, to turn a hobby into a career that you can then package into a class on Skillshare or something.
We’re the Expert Consultant generation—everything we do has to not only be skilled, highly polished, and documented, but it has to be a “side hustle.” The hope is that we can turn our side hustle of raising rare South American cactuses into a business, and then into a consultancy, where I charge people to learn how I did it.
A mix of DIY social media marketing, the gig economy, and The Four-Hour Workweek has created this weird world where no one has hobbies anymore. Everything we do has to be leveraged, packaged, and sold almost right after we start. Doing something without expectation of concrete reward (or even utility) is a revolutionary act.
(Alright, maybe not, but it’s a bigger deal than it used to be).
Here’s what I’m saying: doing something you love even though you’re bad at it—especially because you’re bad at it—might be the best thing for all of us right now. We may even need it.
Developing New Pathways Through Clumsy Exploration
People who are employed often do one thing every day. For me, I have the opportunity to do multiple things, but they’re all roughly within the same wheelhouse, i.e. drafting and editing. Baristas, mechanics, servers, Uber drivers, accountants, or pretty much everyone who has a salaried job does one thing. Unless they’re really lucky, the one thing they do isn’t even the best thing they have to offer.
How many great writers and designers and engineers are stuck doing intern work or working on boring-but-it-pays-the-bills kind of things?
There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way—at least not for you. Bills is bills, you know? But a lot of us know it’s not healthy, at least not in a mental fulfillment sort of way. Especially because a lot of us (me included) go straight home and tune out. We use the same pathways in our brain day after day, never exploring or playing or just messing around with some Play-Doh.
If we took an hour every week to do something new, like painting or pottery or writing or Quidditch or rock climbing, it would let us access parts of our brain and bodies that go ignored every day. Most people don’t because they’re exhausted, but also because there’s simply no use for those things in our daily lives.
Am I going to be able to sell this pottery? Will I be able to write an award-winning collection of poems? Probably not. And thanks to the Side Gig Mentality, we think that’s a reason not to do it.
Coaches call this cross-training. Cross-training prevents two things: injury and boredom. A lot of us are suffering existential injuries due to boredom. We never let ourselves stretch out creatively, try something funny or bold or (god forbid) unmonetizable.
New Things Keeps Us Humble
Here’s another reason we should try new things we’re absolutely terrible at: it reminds us of how far we’ve come with everything else. It also reminds us of what it feels like to do something new. For example, I’ve been writing and drawing for 20+ years now. I’ve been journaling since I was 6 and I’ve been drawing comics since I was 7.
When people are just starting out with art, I encourage them as much as I can. I tell folks that everyone can draw, and it’s just a matter of time and effort. I say that, but do I remember the last time I picked up a pen and didn’t know what to do with it? Do I remember the last time I tried to put a thought into writing and had no idea how to do it?
Once a year, my church closes down and tells everyone to visit a different church for one Sunday. There’s a few reasons for it, but my favorite is this: all of us should know what it’s like to be the new person in a community. We should all be able to empathize with being the stranger, the outsider.
Trying new things offers the same sort of empathy, especially if you’re pretty proficient at something already. It reminds us that we all started somewhere, and that there’s no shame in being new at something. There’s a kind of courage in it.
But Why Do I Have to Be Bad At It?
I mean, you don’t. If I’m being honest, I’ve daydreamed about figuring out a way to make money out of filmmaking, or at least make a popular YouTube channel and make it big. That’s almost assuredly not going to happen (because I’m not going to take it that seriously), but at the very least what I want is to be proficient at putting videos together and sharing them with people.
That said, the fact is that many of us are avoiding trying out cool new things because we’d be terrible at them. You know what I think would be fun? Total honesty, I want to try ballet. That would be pretty ludicrous (and ludicrously expensive). But can you imagine if me, all 235 pounds of me, could manage to stand on my toes? How crazy would that be?
We don’t consider trying out things we know we’d never be able to master. That’s wise in the long run—we’ve got short lives. Spending my days trying to master ballet or become a world-class dancer might be a foolhardy pursuit, but taking a six-week men’s ballet class? That’s less time than I spent watching American Vandal last weekend.
Letting ourselves be bad at our hobbies opens up a whole new world to us. It lets us stretch out muscles that we’ve never, ever used before. It lets us access a part of ourselves that maybe we’ve never even given a voice to. Trying out new things with zero regard for skill or appearances expands us, giving us new powers and new confidences we may have spent our whole lives looking for.
In the end, what I’m recommending is hardly new. Psychologists and educators have been preaching about the benefits of this sort of activity for decades. Virtually all of us believe that children should try new things all the time, and we never expect them to be masters by 10 years old. Like Robin Williams’ character in Hook, we’ve just forgotten how important it is for us adults to play too.