For Those About to Suck (We Salute You)

Dave Grohl, American Idol, and why being good at something requires you suck at it first

Hey there, and happy Tuesday! Here’s part 2 of a 3-part series about why we should try to suck at what we do a lot more often. You can find part 1 here.

I grew up watching American Idol. I remember watching Kelly Clarkson rise to fame. I remember laughing at William Hung. And I remember when I began to hate it.

I began to hate the ritual of watching pretty decent singers be told that they should pack it up and go home just because they’re not the next Beyoncé. It wasn’t just that I hated the humiliation others were put through, but that I hated how it made me feel about myself.

Are talent shows really good for a culture of art if they crush a thousand dreams for every one they make come true? Dave Grohl was asked this question years ago, and I’ve found myself thinking about his answer a lot recently:

When I think about kids watching a TV show like American Idol or The Voice, then they think, ‘Oh, OK, that’s how you become a musician, you stand in line for eight fucking hours with 800 people at a convention center and… then you sing your heart out for someone and then they tell you it’s not fuckin’ good enough.’ Can you imagine? It’s destroying the next generation of musicians! Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy and old fucking drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they’ll suck, too. And then they’ll fucking start playing and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana. Because that’s exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some shitty old instruments and they got together and started playing some noisy-ass shit, and they became the biggest band in the world. That can happen again! You don’t need a fucking computer or the internet or The Voice or American Idol.

Dave Grohl

To be clear, this isn’t some Joe Schmoe—this is 18-time Grammy winner, Nirvana Drummer, Foo Fighters guitarist and lead singer Dave Grohl.

Every time someone with talent steps up on stage in a show like American Idol, there is a risk that they sing for the last time. Every time someone watches a person on TV who sings just like them get roasted over the coals for their singing, there is a risk that they decide not to pursue their passions for fear of the ridicule they just witnessed.

Out of fear, they never start learning. They never get good at something because they never fulfill the prerequisite of being bad at the thing.

When I first started writing this newsletter, I had so many doubts. I still do sometimes! My writing, to be honest, is just okay. And that’s okay! Because the question isn’t whether it’s good enough right now, but if I’m on the path to being a little less bad.

As adults, we’re so scared to try new things. We think we should just be good at what we start. We’re afraid to be amateurs—to embarrass ourselves in front of our peers, to be cringe, or to be anything other than a picture-perfect caricature of a human being.

That way lies comfort. But that way also lies joylessness. The choice to care more about our image than our fulfillment is the choice to prioritize others’ opinions over our own.

It is the choice of conformity over authenticity. It is the choice of complacency over creativity. It is the choice of the status quo.

And that’s fine for some people! But it’s not fine for Dave Grohl. And it’s not fine for me.

I’m doubling down on making a fool of myself. I’ve started trying to sing more after telling myself I’m bad at it for years. I might try to learn the drums! Or the bass! Or the mandolin! Or beatboxing, who knows? I’ll suck at first. But maybe one day I’ll suck a little bit less! And that’ll be neat, won’t it?

The world is full of journeys just waiting to be started if we stop caring about who’s watching us take them.

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