It Pays to be Bad

This is going to sound narcissistic. I can't remember the last time I was really, really bad at something. Then about nine months ago, I took up triathlons

Like most beginner triathletes, I'm not a swimmer. My idea of swimming encompassed the length you swim to get to the bar at the other end of the pool. By comparison, a ‘sprint triathlon' features an 800 yard (16 laps) swim course in a lake with hundreds of competitors (and some pretty nasty lookin' fish) kicking and splashing in your face. And that's followed by a 12 mile bike ride and a 3.1 mile run.

As it so happened, I wasn't a biker or a runner either when I started. I'd biked just a handful of times in the last decade. And run a total of no more than 20 miles over the same time period.

See, I don't jump into things like "triathlons". Don't get me wrong, I take lots of risks—I once even tried eggplant parmesan—but taking on a triathlon was more than a risk. It was plain stupid in my estimation. But, few things inspire stupidity like the pull of inspiration.

I owe my friend Jen the credit (and blame) for inspiring me with her personal story of beating chronic health issues and weight problems through endurance sports. And my friend and coach, Rusty, who's the nicest badass I know (actually, he's the only nice badass I know; seems like that's one of the rarest combination of traits one can find in people these days). Between those two poster children, my lizard brain didn't stand a chance and I decided to jump into the deep end.

Nishant slowly dying on a bike
Hilly Kirkland handing me my ass

I was a finisher in the Kirkland Sprint Triathlon last September. And, even though my friends and family remain impressed by this feat, let me assure you, I wasn't very good. If you don't believe me, see for yourself (I placed 398 overall out of 575 finishers).

The thing is that we've all been really bad at stuff because, well, we've all been kids. And despite what mom and dad said, we sucked. At reading. At swimming. At doing math. At drawing. At just about everything. Even the prodigies amongst us started out sucking. But as the wise old man (aka the Chinese mother or Indian father) said, "No pain, no gain." And, what's deviously hidden in that little nugget of wisdom is that sticking with something you're bad at can have all sorts of seemingly unrelated benefits.

Coming back to triathlons, I figured that my training schedule of around 12-14 hours per week would require me to put my personal life and career on the back burner. Instead, it caused me to completely rethink my work-life balance. I ended up focusing my energy better; in fact, I'm actually outperforming myself at work if I compare it to how I was doing a year ago. And, it's no coincidence that I was able to kick-start a dear personal project that I had procrastinated for over three years—this very site, Rainypixels,—around the same time I was teaching myself how to swim in a lake without the fear of being consumed by mutant seaweed (and those nasty lookin' fish).

The older we get, the more we seem to suck at sucking at stuff. We stop picking activities where we're likely to trip and fall at the beginning. But my recent experience tells me that there's all sorts of goodness in sticking to something you're not very good at; taking on something that's drastically out of your comfort zone. You don't have pressure in such activities to outperform others—the Achilles heel on the path to happiness. Instead, you find yourself rediscovering some long-lost habits—like, practice makes perfect—and focusing on the flow of the activity itself. The research literally shows that this is the key to happiness. Not to mention, it's boatloads of fun.

For me it means sticking with triathlons this year. I plan on running at least five races. And, I look forward to what I'll look back upon at the same time next year.

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