I don't seem to be good at anything at all. What's wrong with me?
July 16, 2011 3:24 PM   Subscribe

I don't seem to be good at anything at all. What's wrong with me?

It always seems as though I'm not really good at anything. Throughout my life, I've tried to become better at things, but I never get to that point where I'm great at it. I'm a 19 year old male (perhaps this is an age thing?)

A few things I'm not good at: time management, making the right decisions, relationships (never had one), conversations, learning, fitness and health, and a lot of other things. I am good at some things, but only when they affect others, like keeping promises, helping other people with things, and the like... but otherwise, I'm pretty terrible.

I'm just frustrated about how I don't do well in whatever I do. I feel like my life has been mostly just empty as a result of this. In addition, it affects my friendships since I hardly have anything to talk about. Whenever I try something or even do something I've done for a while, I just find that I'm not good at it. I try really hard but don't seem to get anywhere.

What's wrong with me? What can I do? Thanks very much :)
posted by suburbs to Society & Culture (41 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Most of us aren't good at anything. Some of us are better than others at hiding it (i.e., think of that charming salesman who gives you a mediocre deal, but you like him anyway because he's so nice).
posted by Melismata at 3:27 PM on July 16, 2011

Keeping promises, helping other people, and the like are all excellent qualities in a human being.

Perhaps you just haven't found your niche yet. Nineteen is very young. You're at an age where you should be exploring all sorts of things. Life is one long learning process. You're doing just fine.
posted by AlliKat75 at 3:29 PM on July 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

Yeah, you just haven't figured it out yet. That is fine, lots of people feel that way, however if you are really bothered by this and need help, I recommend getting an aptitude test from Johnson O'Connor. Helping people figure out what they're good at is what they do.

I did it myself and it was very enlightening.
posted by pupstocks at 3:34 PM on July 16, 2011

People tend to not be great at anything. Greatest is overrated sometimes.

Keep doing the things you're good at - keeping promises, helping others - because you'll find when you get older that many, many other people don't do those things, so it's a big asset.

Time management gets better with age as well as judgment to make the right decisions - but no one knows all the answers to everything - you'll have a relationship when you're ready, and if you want to you'll get better with conversations, learning, fitness and health.

Trying things only to find out that you're not good at them is part of learning - learning what you actually want to do with your life and how all the bits will fit together.

It's a journey.
posted by mleigh at 3:34 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

From personal experience, I can state: That's youth! It gets better! Gets better by itself, and is also something you can work on.

Not everybody's youth is like that, but it can be.

If you're like me, I don't know if you are but the description rings a bell: You're a little bit anxious (so the moment never feels right) and you're subconsciously avoiding stuff. This is all workable-on. Then also you probably haven't yet built up a set of self-management tricks that serves you well. Maybe there was no-one around to teach you or the lessons weren't presented in a manner that makes them useful to you - yet.

Make any sense? :) Hope I'm not just blindly reading my own youth into yours. Heh.
posted by krilli at 3:38 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am good at some things, but only when they affect others, like keeping promises, helping other people with things, and the like

In other words, you are trustworthy and compassionate? Honestly, that sounds like two really vital, wonderful qualities -- far more important, in my opinion, than being good at time management or getting good grades or whatever you think you're bad at. I am positive you have other similarly important and valuable qualities.

As for having a hard time learning things: is it that you expect to be good (even perfect) right off the bat? If so, then you may be mistaking the normal learning curve that most people have for some indicator that you're not smart or talented or whatever, which may be making you quit before you've really given yourself a chance to learn your new skill. In other words, maybe you just have to allow yourself, non-judgmentally, to be not good at something at first (or even for awhile), and to let yourself keep working through in spite of your frustration. I'll bet you'll find you do, in fact, improve.

Coming at it from a different angle: have you ever been evaluated for something like dyslexia? I've known some incredibly smart, wonderful, talented people -- including one of my best friends in high school and one of my nephews -- who had a hard time processing information in the "typical" way, which made them believe they were dumb or untalented. But once they were diagnosed with dyslexia they learned how to process information in ways that were actually in line with how their own brains worked, which was of tremendous help to them.

All that said: be kind to yourself. Treat yourself as well as you treat others in your life. You deserve it.
posted by scody at 3:39 PM on July 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

Aw, nothing is wrong with you! Try thinking about what you *like* to do and what you would be useful for the world and others. You don't have to be good at all.
posted by yarly at 3:40 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

10,000 hours. That's how long it takes to master anything.

You simply haven't put in the time.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:45 PM on July 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'd say keeping promises and helping other people are some of the most difficult, important, and admirable things to be good at. You sound like an awesome person :)

And in terms of making conversation, finding something you really like and are passionate are just as important as finding something you're good at!
posted by one little who at 3:47 PM on July 16, 2011

Do you have ADD
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:47 PM on July 16, 2011

Be good at being a good person. That'll get you a long way.*

*Most of the time
posted by ducktape at 3:55 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

hypothetical but serious question: what if you were actually pretty good at a lot of things, but just really bad at judging yourself? i hate to play the age card on you, but 19 is so, so, so, so, so young. unless you have lived an extraordinary life you can't possibly have any idea what you can do and how well you can do it. just focus on being kind to yourself and not quitting doing the things you actually like doing.
posted by facetious at 3:57 PM on July 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Wow, this got a lot of responses. Thanks, everyone!

Melismata: could be true... one thing I've learned is that everybody fakes it :P

AlliKat75: yeah—that's why I mentioned the age thing, since I thought maybe it has to do with it. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

pupstocks: that's very interesting, I'll have to check it out. What kind of reuslts did you find out from it?

mleigh: thank you. Keeping those things in mind is something I try to do, but it feels like time passes so quickly and things don't get better. In hindsight, though, I have gotten better at some things over the past year.

krilli: that does ring a bell! I think other people's experiences in life say a lot. I avoid talking to girls even though the experience gradually really helps long-term, avoid trying some (but not all) difficult things because I know I'll fail. Thanks :)

scody: thank you. Yeah, I recognize that too. I see some people try something new and easily fall into it, whether it's a sport or activity or anything... tennis, writing, sailing, and the like. When I don't experience the same with a lot of things, I just think it's not right for me. A high standard is something I hold myself to, to try to make myself work harder. Perhaps it's too high. I'll definitely try to work through it. And nope—I've never been diagnosed for dyslexia, and don't think I do have it... but I will read up more on it to see if it's something I should be concerned about. Thanks very much.

yarly: haha, I try to do that! It helps me feel better sometimes. Thank you.

one little who: aw, thank you very much. That means a lot. I guess it's because I think it doesn't matter if I'm not great at stuff for myself, but if I'm not a good person to others, then nothing else really matters.

the young rope-rider: I haven't been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, nope. I don't know if I exhibit any symptoms of it... will have to look more into it.

ducktape: that's what I hope :)

facetious: that's a fascinating idea. In other words, I'm actually good at some things but my scale to measure how good I think I am isn't working right, so to speak? It could be true for some things, but there are things that I'm unquestionably not good at (relationships, for example—I haven't had one while others my age have had many by now.) You know, that makes me realize—it some of it boils down to not succeeding over and over again, while I look at others succeed at what they do, and I feel like whatever I'm doing is just wrong, and I'm wasting my time doing it. Kinda get what I mean?
posted by suburbs at 4:11 PM on July 16, 2011

Forgot one.

Civil_Disobedient: that could definitely be true—but before you master something, you show at least some early success at it. I don't really see that too much :/
posted by suburbs at 4:12 PM on July 16, 2011

Being "good at doing something" is somewhat subjective. But at least you're fully aware of when you make mistakes. There's people who go through the motions of life thinking they're great at something when no one has the heart to tell them they're doing very poorly.

You're 19, have an upper hand on knowing your shortcomings, and have a long journey ahead of you. You might reach points in life where you think you finally have a good handle on a certain thing...only to discover 10 years later you weren't doing it nearly as well as you could have. This is life for everyone...and as long as you're able to breathe, eat, and drink water you'll survive long enough to learn from mistakes and get better at the things you practice.

Next time you find yourself doing something not so well...let's say cooking crepes for example. Take a moment to analyze what went wrong. Look online for tips and suggestions from others that made the same mistakes and had the same outcomes as you...and give it another go regardless if you NEED to or not. If you have the time to spare...make this one thing a hobby...perfect it...if only to have at least one thing on your belt you're a master at. Believe me, being the master of at least ONE thing in life can help your confidence on tackling all those other obstacles out there.
posted by samsara at 4:12 PM on July 16, 2011

You sound to me like you might be a bit depressed but also, yes I think this is largely an age thing. When I was your age (Christ I can't believe I'm saying that), I also often had that feeling where you go, "God I'm so boring, why don't I ever have anything to talk about?" But people don't talk about how good they are at things (or at least anyone who isn't insufferable doesn't). It is very unlikely that anyone else is judging you as harshly as you are yourself; people probably think you are as good a conversationalist as the next guy.

As for your other examples of things you're not good at – these are mostly very, very broad categories. These aren't skills you're lacking, they're things you wish you were doing more of with your life. You can do them! Just try! And fail some, and keep trying. Time management begins with making a resolution to manage your time better. Exercise begins with dragging yourself out of the house. These things are easier for some than others but you are capable of doing them as well as the next guy.

Some others of the abilities you list are, IMO, unmasterable because the concept of being good at them is sort of incoherent. Being in a successful relationship, for instance, is not about having a discrete skill, but about being flexible, caring and attentive, among other things. It sounds like you will actually be as good as anyone can be at this, when you do have a relationship (and believe me, it is in all likelihood a "when" and not an "if." You are still very, very young and things will happen for you). However, people break up all the time – good people who are just not good for each other – when you're young and you don't have obligations to anyone but yourself, there is hardly even such a thing as a "failed" relationship, if you ask me.

Also: Most people suck at most things. That's why we pay big money to see LeBron James play basketball, or to see professional orchestras, or so on. Almost NOBODY can do those things "well." If you enjoy doing them anyway, then that's really all most people can hope for most of the time.

tl;dr: Cut yourself some slack. Judging from this post alone, your biggest problem is probably a tendency to beat yourself up.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 4:37 PM on July 16, 2011

Civil_Disobedient: that could definitely be true—but before you master something, you show at least some early success at it. I don't really see that too much :/

No, this is not true. You will fail and fail and fail and fail again at almost anything that is worth learning how to do.
posted by empath at 4:42 PM on July 16, 2011 [9 favorites]

You need more time. I felt the same at 19. Now I'm very very good at a lot of things.
posted by tel3path at 4:44 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hey - I'm 48, and I'm still figuring out what I'm good at! I was all about computers and rockets and technology when I was growing up, and everybody figured I'd be an astronaut, or running NASA or something when I grew up. As it turns out, I really kind of sucked at engineering and related things, and am better at building and a fixing things with my hands. I'm pretty intelligent, and I'm very good at troubleshooting, but I'm just not that attracted to the things I thought I would be when I was growing up. In fact, a "work interest assessment" I took in 9th grade listed my top occupational choice as "forest ranger". I laughed my ass off over that one. Now, that actually sounds like something I'd enjoy doing. I guess my point is that some people find this stuff when they least expect it. I admire the fact that you care about people and are honest and caring. Qualities like that are much more important than a lot of the other things our culture seems to value highly. Hang onto those qualities. Talk to people who do different things. Watch them work (or play) and ask them questions. Try as many different things as you can; music, sculpture, woodworking, painting, landscaping, growing things, animal care, driving people around, helping old/disabled folks, writing, singing - whatever you can find. Eventually something will just feel right, and you'll have it. That "something" may change over the course of your life, but that's what keeps it interesting. Good luck, and take care!
posted by Death by Ugabooga at 4:48 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm 30. I've only in the last year or so figured out what I want to be when I grow up. And right now, because I'm just learning, I fail repeatedly at tasks I try. I get confused and make mistakes and screw things up. I'm basically in a constant state of panic about how terribly I'm doing. But then my supervisor reminds me that I've only been at it for a short time, and that I'm doing most of these tasks for the first time ever, and that if I weren't screwing up, it would probably mean that I was playing it safe and not actually trying to master the hard stuff. And she's right.

Becoming great at something isn't about showing some early, savant-like success. It's about wanting something badly enough that you're willing to slog through a long time of sucking at it while you figure out how it works and how to put your skills and interests to good use in it. You are very young. You will find that thing (or, hopefully, a few things) that you just love to do, and you will do them, and you will make mistakes, and you will get better, and you will realize success. And if you really can't bear the thought of living your life without doing something, perhaps you will become great at it.
posted by decathecting at 4:56 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, DJing is the one thing in life I've ever bothered to get really good at. I had no musical training, I was completely tone deaf, I had not rhythm, and I completely sucked at it for the first 2 years -- bad enough that people told tell me to my face that I sucked -- people even offered me money to stop playing at one gig. But by four years in (four years of one terrible gig after another), I was playing a gig at my favorite club for 3000 screaming people and broadcast live on XM radio. And after that I still had gigs where people would tell me I sucked and should stop DJing.

There was no reason I should have ever been a DJ. I had zero musical aptitude or experience or ability. But I loved that club, and I wanted to DJ at that club, for that crowd, and there was nothing that was going to stand of the way of it happening. All it takes is to find something you love, and spend a lot of time learning it, even if you fail at it over and over again. Even if people tell you that you are wasting your time. Just do it.
posted by empath at 5:18 PM on July 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

First: What you're feeling is just what it is to be a human being, for the big ol' bunch of us that aren't geniuses. Sometimes schools don't do us a favour by persuading us that we are each special snowflakes who can storm the world with our unique brand of genius. If you can get through life OK without really hurting people and finding a few puddles of joy and love to jump in here and there along the way, you're doing really well.

>A high standard is something I hold myself to, to try to make myself work harder.
From personal experience, this is not great. Those people you think take naturally to sailing etc - they don't. They do it, they're rubbish at it, but they still go and do it again the next weekend. And the next one. By the time you go back out with them a month later, they're noticeably better than you, so you think they're naturally gifted. In fact, they just didn't give up at the first hurdle and have put the time in to inch ahead.

>Throughout my life, I've tried to become better at things
This is an old, yawnsome chestnut for someone your age to read, but you say "throughout my life", and really, you've barely started. You've been an adult for 1 year. You have, all being well, scores of them left. It seems to you like you're old because you're the oldest you've ever been. You have more time than you can *even imagine* to get good at stuff. Even if you spend the next decade exploring hobbies and reject all of them and start again at the age of 30 you have time to get great at the things you discover then. I promise you, when you're 50, you will be amazingly talented and respected for things that you can't even conceive of today. Then you'll tire of them and take up something else for the next 25 years!
posted by penguin pie at 5:30 PM on July 16, 2011

A 20 year old friend of ours, who is one of the funniest, most delightful people I've ever met felt just as you do. She can't do anything right, her life hasn't amounted to anything, and on and on.

She finally decided that she was thinking about herself too much, withdrew from university, and went off for a year to volunteer at an orphanage in a 3rd world country.

She's back now and is still funny and delightful but doesn't complain about herself anymore. She's keenly interested in 3rd world development issues now, and is back at school with a new focus and intensity.

Volunteering in an orphanage isn't for everyone, obviously, but sometimes seeing if you can get out of your head and into things you care about can take you a long way.
posted by jasper411 at 5:55 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a librarian. In grad school I did a semester in Bibliographic Instruction - teaching college students how to do research. Something my instructor emphasized is that 18-22 yr olds are still growing and developing, and have a difficult time telling good info from bad info -- not because they're not intelligent, motivated, or capable of learning, but because the brain cells just aren't quite there yet. So part of our job was to teach them ways to discern good info from bad info, since it wasn't obvious.

Just another way, I guess, of saying that 19 is pretty young to be good at much of anything yet. And that's OK! Also remember that...

You can get better at something, even if it's not something you're "good" at.

New experiences are a good way to find out what you like or are good at. Get out of your comfort zone - volunteer for a cause you admire, do something physical you normally don't do, meet new people. Spark new neuron pathways!

Life isn't about the destination, it's about the journey (I think that's a John Lennon quote - sorry). I'm sure there are things you do every day that you enjoy or are good at. Acknowledge and build on those!
posted by hms71 at 6:01 PM on July 16, 2011

Getting good --I mean really good-- at something takes work. And the only way most of us will put that work in is if we love it enough that we're willing to push through all the failures. Take gardening. How many times have I heard people say "I kill plants; I'm terrible with plants." Those amazing gardeners out there? I guarantee you they have killed their fair share of plants while learning what works & doesn't work for them & their yard. They weren't born amazing at gardening, they got there by loving plants/garden work enough to persist even when it seemed like a bad fit & they were throwing good time/money/faith after bad.

So my question to you would be: Have you found something you love enough to be willing to be bad at it for a while? Because practice & patience with yourself is definitely part of the answer.

The other thought I have to offer is this: Sometimes when you find something you love you never actually get good at it. It happens & is frustrating. I love to dance. But I will never be anything but a klutz who's horrible at sorting left foot from right & was born with a disfunctional rhythm gene. But if you can find something you truly love, sometimes it doesn't matter if you don't get good at it. Because you love to do it & it creates it's own joy that has nothing to do with mastery or mad chops. It can be enough, if you let it be.
posted by Ys at 6:28 PM on July 16, 2011

I disagree with a lot of the comments. Some people really are naturally good at some things, while others aren't. Sometimes no amount of practice is going to help you be *good*. My younger brother is a whiz at programming since before puberty even hit him, while I tried so so so hard and barely passed Intro to Programming in college. Some of my friends are naturally good at rock climbing while I still struggle with the easy climbs even though I've been climbing longer than them. I've been trying to learn to play the freakin' F chord on guitar for the last 2 years, and I still can't play it right, ever. I'm not particularly good at anything, but I'm sort of alright at some things that I really enjoy doing, so I keep doing them. And that's all I really need to stay happy. It actually works to my advantage because these hobbies of mine continue to be a challenge, instead of being like one of my friends who gets really good at something quickly and then gets bored of it immediately because it's no longer a challenge.

The things that I do agree with though, is that being a good person, being reliable, being nice, are amazing qualities to have, and that is what people look for in friendships - they don't look for friends with skills or talents. If you're worried about being unimpressive, don't worry about that! Just pick up a couple of hobbies, be passionate about something, and you will be interesting to your friends (as long as you don't blab on and on if someone is not interested)... There are a ton of things you can do to be interesting that you don't have to be *good* at - hiking, biking (not racing or anything crazy, just recreational biking), training for a 5k, reading about something interesting, traveling, volunteering - these are all things that will make your life feel less empty, and will make you interesting to your friends. As long as you are passionate about something and do stuff other than watching TV, and are a genuinely nice person, people will be drawn to you, I promise.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 6:29 PM on July 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thank you all. This is all extremely helpful... I think what I can gather from the past 10 or so comments is that we aren't really good at anything from the get-go, but have to work towards getting to the point where we see some success. Maybe it's all about perspective... I think I'm determining how well I do things without actually doing them that much, and kind of making an early presumption of how well I'm doing and declaring defeat without doing it enough.

Yes, I guess it also counts that I'm not that old (yet) and things will get better with time and experience, provided I keep trying, and trying new things at that.

I'm really glad that I posted this to AskMeFi today. This has really changed the way I see things... dixiecupdrinking was right, I am a bit depressed (though I've been a lot worse) because of this and other reasons stemming from this. I feel a lot better about how my life is going and I'm much less worried that I'm hopelessly doing the wrong thing in life... so—thank you all so much.
posted by suburbs at 6:34 PM on July 16, 2011

You get good at things by practicing them. I'm good at all sorts of things now that I wasn't good at several years ago. Let go of the idea of talents and inherent abilities. Most people get where they are by working at it. You will too!
posted by Knowyournuts at 7:06 PM on July 16, 2011

It sounds like it's a bit of "you're a product of ...(whatever they're saying these days...) but also, you haven't hit on what you're going to be good at yet either.

The things you're saying you're not good at (time management, making the right decisions, relationships, conversations, learning, fitness and health, and a lot of other things. I am good at some things, but only when they affect others, like keeping promises, helping other people with things, and the like... but otherwise, I'm pretty terrible) are all byproducts of doing things - not already being things.

Find something, anything, to do, hopefully with a mentor involved, and do it, somehow. Walk dogs in shelters; be a camp counselor; volunteer at a charity shop... something that pays in ways other than money and where you meet and learn from a variety of interesting people who do have life experience. Listen more than you talk.

At nineteen, unless either drastically awful or drastically good things have affected you already, you just don't have that much life exerience yet. If it hasn't been handed to you, you do need to go out and get it. And, whatever you do does not have to be for the "rest of your life". These days, not many people have "lifetime careers" decided right out of school, they go through phases. So, in my case, you may have some barely responsible and fancy free early twenties; learning late-twenties; career driven early thirties; family focused mid thirties; and then, a re-invention of yourself in your late forties. But if you view it as "getting there is half the fun", you don't have to worry so much that you're not where you think you should be yet.
posted by peagood at 7:11 PM on July 16, 2011

This Ira Glass quote I love says essentially the same thing many others have said.

I do agree that some people are naturally gifted at particular things, but I don't agree that if you don't have the gift that you can't become really great at it if you're willing to put in the time. Of course it's frustrating to see other people fall into a skill effortlessly, but they probably have a harder time with things you do quite easily. You just don't see it when it happens.

Be kinder to yourself. You already have many important qualities that (as noted above), many people do not have. These other things you want to learn will happen also, and to make it easier on yourself, practice patience. I wish someone had told my 19-year old self to master patience. Because it took another twenty years or so for me to start to practice.
posted by Glinn at 7:33 PM on July 16, 2011

You live in the suburbs? Well, there's your problem right there! I kid.

I find, for me, that things either come really easy or really hard. I tend not to value the things that come easy for me much... feels like everybody could/should be able to do them.... or since its so easy for me, they aren't important... its a truly silly way to act sometimes, but such is life.

The things I find hard for me, I get frustrated and want to give up far too quickly.
Also, if you're a perfectionist, you never get anything done. You are always waiting for the right time/star alignment/ what have you. Or, you feel that you can't get it perfect, so you never start.

As a full on nerd myself... well, relationships are hard. Trust me when I say its better to be single than in a bad relationship. I know, that's skipping ahead a little :) It will come in time. Relationships and the starting of them are a skill too. Know yourself, know what you want, and it will likely come. If not, don't be afraid to ask out people :D But, don't forget that the ladies around your age are also young and potentially... mm... immature? Insecure? hormonally unbalanced, like all teens? :)

My advice? relax a little. Take classes in... well, everything. Find out what you love and pursue it. Dont freak out if you havent found what you love by the age of 30. Volunteer! Animal shelters, churches, VFW, ren faire, conventions, hospitals, nursing homes, museums... the list is pretty much endless. One advantage of volunteering, besides the great personal and resume building benefits, is that you will hang out with older, presumably wise & more mature people. Just trust that they will like you. You seem intelligent and a very good people person. You could be a psychologist :D

Oh, and the 'you can do anything you want' thing is both a blessing and a curse. Just don't panic... at the end of the day, ask yourself 'was I what I wanted to be? if yes, what can I do tomorrow to be more so? If no, why not?' tell yourself (and believe, ideally) that its ok. Tomorrow is another day. And lastly, I find that the smallest gestures of kindness can completely improve someones day/life. You may never notice or understand the impact, but it will be there.

As always, you're welcome to mail me :)
posted by Jacen at 8:11 PM on July 16, 2011

I am not super-old or anything, but I think when you are young, being good at stuff is largely a function of innate talent. The older I get, though, the more I realize that I am the sum total of lots of tiny actions repeated over and over again.

I really think we get good at stuff we practice over and over again. The trick is that you have to be consciously aware of what you're practicing, and ask yourself if that's a skill you really want to have. For example, I am amazing at wasting time on the internet. I've had a ton of practice. It's not a great skill to have, but, uh, somehow it seems to have happened.

I stopped watching TV, because it turned out I was getting really good at sitting down in front of the TV after work, mindlessly watching shows, and then bam! 10:00 PM! It's possible to get really good at sitting on a couch watching TV. But that's not really a useful skill to have.

You seem to be know your weaknesses. Attack them directly. You're bad at fitness? Find a sport or activity you'll do. Do it as often as you can. You won't know it while you're doing it, but maybe five years from now you'll look around and realize that you're in way better shape than you were, and in fact you're way better at fitness than all your co-workers.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:20 PM on July 16, 2011

Re Johnson O'Connor, there was a thread about it fairly recently.

I had interesting results that have helped me both recognize why something is extra difficult for me and have patience with myself because of it and also value the things I do well easily. I really liked it. It's expensive but, in my opinion, worth it especially when you're at a crossroads or feeling like you can't do anything as you currently feel. You may just not know how to apply your aptitudes.
posted by pupstocks at 8:31 PM on July 16, 2011

you're 19, that's why. Very few people are good at anything worthwhile when they are 19. Exceptions may be: computer coders, violin prodigies...I think that's it.

A friend once said it's a lot easier to get good at 1 thing than to get good at a bunch. It's really true but I instead worked on a bunch and it indeed took me a long time. But I'm 35 now and pretty good at quite a few.

Anyway, find what it is you want to do and then do it.

Honestly, minus significant mental delays, I think that pretty much anyone can end up doing pretty much anything. You just have to work hard. Talent is fairly meaningless. Situation and hard work are very important. So you need to put yourself in a good place to learn, and then work your ass off.
posted by sully75 at 8:41 PM on July 16, 2011

Not only are you 19, but this is 2011. Your profile doesn't say where you live, but I'm willing to bet you're in an affluent Western country; as such, you will have grown up soaked, saturated, drowned in advertising that is now so all-pervading that at 19 you probably don't even notice it's there.

Advertising is all about creating the expectation that instant happiness, instant success, instant gratification can be yours with the aid of Product X. Some 19 year olds (by no means all - consider the amount of logo clothing worn by members of your peer group) are at least healthily cynical enough to realise that the advertising for any specific Product X is a blatant scam, because you've all had repeated experiences of trying out assorted X only to find that instant success does not follow. But it takes time and reflection to work out that the common thread underlying all advertising messages - that instant happiness/success/gratification is available at all - is the biggest scam of them all.

Getting good at things cannot be done instantly. No way, no where, no how. Getting good at things requires practice. This is just how it is. Consider anybody you know who is good at anything and ask yourself how much time that person has already spent on doing that thing. Especially if it's somebody who has been good at whatever they're good at for as long as you can remember. And this is true regardless of what motivates the practice. Practice driven by enjoyment and practice driven by necessity both cause skills improvement.

I'm tipping that one of the things that you have been practising from necessity for 19 years, and are now very very good at, is not paying attention to advertising. So, now it's time to start practising something else: awareness of what's being suggested to you. Make a point of analysing the advertising that bombards you. Start identifying and questioning the implicit assumptions you're being invited to fall in line with as well as the overt message from each individual advertisement.

Once you manage to drop this massive backpack full of unreasonable self-expectation that's been loaded onto you for commercial reasons, you will be free to find something you enjoy doing for its own sake and happily fail, fail and fail again at doing it. In twenty years, other people will think you're really, really good at it - hopefully you will always remain dissatisfied enough with your own mastery to keep working at improving :-)
posted by flabdablet at 10:23 PM on July 16, 2011

that could definitely be true—but before you master something, you show at least some early success at it. I don't really see that too much

No, you don't understand. I'm not just making up some number. I'm pointing out something that researchers are starting to realize is the magic number. And the reason it's magic is because what evidence has shown is that the standard metrics we use to predict someone's success or failure is flawed in a number of ways. We think that you have to be a genius, or you have to be good-looking, or you have show a childhood proclivity or be born into the right set of circumstances if you're going to have any chance of real success.

But all that's mostly wrong. Plenty of people smarter than Einstein will never go on to win a Nobel prize. Scan the list of prior Nobel prize winners and see where they went to school—they didn't all come from Harvard or Cambridge; they went to schools all over the map. About "natural interest and ability", well, no better example than Mozart, who's often dragged out as the stereotypical "natural". Except the stories are full of hyperbole. He didn't write his first real score until he was almost 20 (original score, not arrangement which is basically just a re-mix).

The most important things that will happen to determine your success or failure are likely to be completely random, but your failure or ability to react and take advantage of that opportunity when it presents itself is what will ultimately determine your success. And that requires nothing more than preparation. Practice.

Personally, I think the only way you're going to be able to put in the time necessary for mastery over a subject is if you love that thing to begin with.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:11 PM on July 16, 2011

maybe instead of searching for things you're good at, start searching for things you enjoy. I am really good at parallel parking and shuffling cards. However, I enjoy reading, playing sports, and cooking, even though I'm not particularly good and these activities. Most of all, I think what gives me the most sense of enjoyment and accomplishment in life is the friendships that I've made, and the positives qualities you've mentioned about yourself are things to cultivate and be proud of. Not everyone has an impressive talent they can point out, and there's certainly nothing wrong with you.
posted by emd3737 at 12:33 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

First of all, it sounds like you really equate your self-worth with your accomplishments. Stop right there. Being an awesome and/or famous cellist/politician/plumber/author/what have you doesn't make you a more worthwhile human being. Think of all the people you love that aren't The Best at some skill . . . do you love them less because they're not at the top of their field? Also, being great at stuff isn't going to make you happier. Think of all the successful people throughout history who have been miserable.

I think you may be focused too much on what other people think. I'm sure a big part of you wants to be great at stuff because you think it would give you satisfaction, but from your comment that you feel like you don't have anything to talk about with people, you obviously also care a lot about what other people think. Totally normal, of course, but life is so much better if you try to dampen that as much as possible. I agree that you should try lots of different things, even (or especially) try stuff that you know you will fail at. It's really important for perfectionists like us (that is what you are) to see that the world doesn't end when we're not good at stuff. It's also extremely important that you develop hobbies/skills based simply on the fact that you like doing them. Life is long, and you have to fill up that time somehow. If you only ever try to fill it up with stuff that you are Oh My God Amazing at right off the bat, your life is gonna be pretty boring. Learn to enjoy the actual work of what you're doing, not just the reward.

And nthing, you're really young, and this is all normal. It doesn't help that Mark Zuckerberg and his ilk are becoming billionaires in their early 20's . . . jerks.
posted by imalaowai at 12:59 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Zuckerberg has an ilk?

In any case, I'm pretty sure his jerkishness is orthogonal to his billionairehood. Brin and Page are young billionaires as well, and I've not seen a lot of reports that either is a jerk.
posted by flabdablet at 2:37 AM on July 17, 2011

I'm about your age and feel the same way. I recently signed up for brazilian jiu-jitsu classes and they've actually made me feel better. The learning process for BJJ is basically to get beat up repeatedly, and there's a common attitude among people who do it that if you aren't failing then you aren't pushing yourself hard enough. Failing so many times has actually made me feel less ashamed about failure in general, and the people are really encouraging and I'm actually getting better. In the last class I went to, I tapped out repeatedly, and was absolutely dominated by another beginner who has the exact same amount of experience as me. This was a little discouraging, but mostly I just felt good because I learned a lot of things I was doing wrong. I'm better now than I was even though technically I lost.

The attitude that you'll have to fail before you get good is something you should cultivate, but it might also be helpful to surround yourself with people who have that same attitude and want to help you.
posted by vogon_poet at 1:08 PM on July 17, 2011

Maybe it's all about perspective... I think I'm determining how well I do things without actually doing them that much, and kind of making an early presumption of how well I'm doing and declaring defeat without doing it enough.

This is a classic symptom of perfectionism, aka "I don't want to try anything I'm not already good at." Learning to take risks is a skill that most perfectionists (including me) need to work on, even if the risk is something that may appear as silly as not wanting to look ridiculous in front of people we don't know.

I wish I'd started working on that at 19. It's a lot harder when you hit 40.
posted by catlet at 2:52 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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