Set Me Up For Failure!
August 13, 2019 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Seeking help generating a list of ideas for things to try that I am most likely going to be terrible at, but with hilarious results. Explanation inside.

As several have noticed, I'm in a bit of a transformative place right now; job change plus a lot of introspection. And today I had the idea that something that's held me back is a case of "gifted-kid" syndrome - you get too used to farting out A's and success during school and that becomes your identity, so you end up with a complex about not wanting to try new things or take risks because "what if I don't succeed omigod no one will love me" or whatever.

So I had the idea of making a list of things to try where I was almost guaranteed to fall flat on my face, so I could immunize myself to failure. But not just little failures - I want to go for maximum-strength big-time-styley failures. And funny ones, where the sheer scope and ridiculousness of the situation ends up short-circuiting any embarrassment and I end up laughing at myself. Think, like, Olive's dance to "Superfreak" at the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. (Nothing where I could potentially damage my actual life or bank account, or anyone else's. A broken bone is the upper limit of physical damage, and maybe a loss of $100 total financial damage.)

Go! Help me screw up!
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Grab Bag (67 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any real suggestions, but OMG! I'll be following this closely. I have a bit of the gifted-kid syndrome too.

(Although videoing yourself dancing to Baby Shark or other annoying kid songs and then posting them on YouTube might be fun)
posted by kathrynm at 8:55 AM on August 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

What are you currently pretty good at?

My first instincts are tap dance and oil painting, but it's hard to know whether you already do those or related things.
posted by wellred at 8:57 AM on August 13, 2019

Learning some of the kid dances? Flossing, etc.

Making fancy cakes a la Nailed it!
posted by Ftsqg at 8:58 AM on August 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

Unicycling and Slacklining are hard to pick up, but for me the real key was to be bad at something and enjoy doing it and being mediocre. For me, that's mountain biking, cross country skiing, and running. I stink at them but keep doing it.
posted by advicepig at 9:00 AM on August 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

Trapeeze? Busking?
posted by nkknkk at 9:00 AM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh, improv classes! Not only will you not be great to start out, but it really stretches your ability to take risks.
posted by advicepig at 9:04 AM on August 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

Take some free online practice quizzes for professional certifications that aren't in your job field.

Trying to replicate a piece of artwork.

Cookie decorating

Track and field events
posted by Sparky Buttons at 9:06 AM on August 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

slack rope walking
posted by jquinby at 9:06 AM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love this question! I also default to liking anyone who would sincerely ask such a question! :)

My first thought was art, because that's how I started. Just buy stuff and play around. Use books from the library about how to do... whatever. You will fail in hilariously sad fashion. But keep at it and you might just produce something you are sort of not ashamed to show someone. Then something you like. I make sculpture out of junk and cardboard. That and abstract expressionism (throwing paint around) are my go to. I've even made a party out of it called "Bad Art Night" where you invite all your friends to bring art supplies, "pot-luck" style, and just make art damn the results. Everyone has permission to be horrible at it. But everyone must try. And, you know, drink and have fun.

Or write some poetry and go to an open mic. You'll be pretty bad, but from some of the open mics I've been to, you will not be alone by any stretch. If you write something cheerful and apolitical (and leave your exes out of it) you will stand out from the crowd and be one of the peoples' favorites, I bet.
posted by cross_impact at 9:07 AM on August 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

What are you currently pretty good at?

Oh dangit I should have thought to mention this...

I actually took some tap dance training in college (acting conservatory) so I might be almost a little over-qualified to be bad? So not that.

Singing/piano I've done. I was informed by a movement teacher in college that I wasn't bad at the tango. I can cook pretty dang well. My proficiency at visual art isn't good, but it's almost too good to be called "terrible", it's more like...."okay." Same too with sewing.

also I'm looking more for like one-and-done kind of things, like "sign up for a juggling act at a talent show despite having no juggling experience whatsoever, and then all the balls land on your head when you throw them up and you leave the stage" kinds of things.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:08 AM on August 13, 2019

Oh, and "taking online assessment tests for things i'm not qualified in" is in the right spirit, but it doesn't have a wide enough audience. I want to be as public as humanly possible.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:10 AM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

*Perform a stand-up comedy set
*Similarly, perform in a spoken word or musical open-mic night

Personally, I would try music lessons. It’s not as epic as some of the suggestions, but it’s the kind of thing that’s fun even if you’re bad and yet has a strong intrinsic incentive to practice and get better.
posted by rue72 at 9:11 AM on August 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Build a coffee table or end table out of wood.

Prove the mean value theorem

Recite the history of the Ming Dynasty

Write a folk ballad
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:11 AM on August 13, 2019

The one and only time I tried the sport of curling it was at a grad student mixer—so, a group of people used to being very good at things. Like most of my teammates, I fell flat on my butt within about five minutes of getting on the ice. (I can ice skate, but in curling you wear shoes, one of which has a slippery sole.)

Curling is great because it looks sooooo easy but is actually hard to excel at. My team and I found it quite humbling but also hilarious because we were so bad at it.

It looks like curling is making a resurgence in Brooklyn so you can probably get in on a clinic or lessons if you sign up early.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:12 AM on August 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

Karaoke, but with songs you've never heard before.
posted by pipeski at 9:12 AM on August 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

Volunteer to teach a class in a subject you know nothing about.
posted by hanov3r at 9:12 AM on August 13, 2019

Community theater. Sew your own clothes. Juggling. Paint a self-portrait. Sing in public. Nude modeling for a drawing class.
posted by XtineHutch at 9:13 AM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have been doing this thing lately where I attempt to follow along with a makeup tutorial--the more elaborate the better--and post side-by-side photos of their result and mine. Hilarity ensues. I also did a choreographed lip synch in a room full of people once. Improv has always sounded terrifying to me.
posted by sugarbomb at 9:14 AM on August 13, 2019 [18 favorites]

Sounds like a fun idea! And it reminds me of the Invisibilia episode where a guy "made a game out of rejection" to get over his fear of asking people out ... so in that spirit, how about asking little things of strangers? Looks like the guy who was featured in that episode even has a game with various "rejection therapy challenges" for more ideas (some examples are in the link above - though I'd vet them to minimize the chance of being truly annoying to strangers).
posted by DingoMutt at 9:14 AM on August 13, 2019

In the same spirit, signing up to do an open mic night playing an obnoxious, loud instrument you've never played, such as the trumpet or accordion.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:15 AM on August 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Sometimes I imagine the worst scenarios in which to be Quantum Leapt. I don't know if any of these are feasible, but these are my worst scenarios:
* being the goalie in a hockey/soccer game
* giving a presentation/TED talk on something I know nothing about
* kicking the game-winning field goal with only 1 second on the clock
* being on Jeopardy
* giving the closing arguments as a defense attorney in a high-profile trial

Some of my most publicly humiliating moments were when I decided to sing songs at Karaoke that I really don't know very well.
posted by GoldenEel at 9:20 AM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Make and serve tricky dishes like meringue or soufflés on the spot to guests.
posted by whitelotus at 9:20 AM on August 13, 2019

Do you have a nearby roller rink? (Bonus: do you have a local derby league, and do they do open class/newbie nights?) This does skirt the broken bone territory, so don't do it if you think the chance of injury is really high.

We're getting close to end of summer, but surely there are still a few eating contests coming up, for Labor Day weekend if not for regional events.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:21 AM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

You could look for a "PowerPoint karaoke" night in which you have to present slides you've never seen before.

Along a similar vein, go to conferences for industries you know nothing about and stand up and ask questions.
posted by wellred at 9:22 AM on August 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

A few years ago friends organized a Portsmouth Sinfonia tribute band. The only rule was that you couldn't play an instrument you'd ever held before. It was great fun.
posted by eotvos at 9:23 AM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you are okay with only falling on your face sometimes but mostly falling on your ass, you could try learning to snowboard if you haven't already.

If you're looking for more of a one-off, line dancing with a group of people that are good at it when you've never done it before is going to make you look and feel ridiculous. I mean there are prescribed steps and stuff so even if you're naturally graceful it will probably be pretty bad.
posted by ftm at 9:24 AM on August 13, 2019

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway is a self-help book based on the principle of doing something you are afraid of every day.

Marianne Power spent a year following the advice of 12 self-help books -- one per month -- and at the end she said the fear one was her favorite.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 9:27 AM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

A question near and dear to my heart. I make a regular practice of doing stuff I am bad at, and for me, doing a martial art yields the most consistent fruit. In grad school I did capoeira, which maximizes the chances of landing on your face and being amazingly sore and gazing in wonder at the folks who use it as a warm up to their evening yoga class or whatever. Right now I do karate, with a school where everyone makes mistakes and supports each other all the time (and I am still terrible, but it’s good exercise.)

Doing cosplay is this for me as well, but with a more theatrical background it may not be for you.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:30 AM on August 13, 2019

Battledecks is always really fun. Sometimes it will pop up at events, but it's also pretty easy to run with a bunch of friends and some way to project slides.
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:31 AM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

slam poetry
celebrity impersonations
trying to mimic other accents
dramatic makeup looks
beat boxing
sign language
fortune telling
open mic night
learning how to drive standard
cutting your own hair
cutting someone else's hair
drawing street caractatures for strangers
building a home entertainment unit (C'mon, Joey it up!)
train a cat to do a backflip on command
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:31 AM on August 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Give yourself a haircut.
Get hustled by one of the chess masters in the park.
You could try setting up a table in the park proclaiming a controversial stance you don't know much about and invite people to debate you (you know, like this guy). I don't know if the failure mode here is that you lose the argument or you get ignored by everyone.
Join a pickup basketball game. In your work clothes if you're nasty. Or some similar physical activity you're bad at (running club, weekly cycling group, skateboard park).
posted by backseatpilot at 9:32 AM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

attempt a swan dive at the local pool?
posted by speakeasy at 9:32 AM on August 13, 2019

This might not be quite as showy, but my pottery class, there were a bunch of people there, and our first forays into it resulted in some very messy mistake-making, and the end result was really good for that perfectionism because at every step you really have to say "okay this is it, I'm letting go of the current state of it". However lopsided it is when it comes off the wheel, you aren't fixing that in trimming. Trim the lip at a weird angle, great, that's how it's getting fired. Everybody else sees what you're doing, and there may well be people in the class who're better at it than you are, but you kind of just... have what you have, you don't have the ability to keep fussing with it until it's right.

Technically not really one-and-done because mine at least was three Saturdays. I'd look for a shorter class like that for this purpose, not like a full semester-long thing or something. It was a 10/10 confronting-perfectionism experience, and the very imperfect result is growing on me as it lives on my coffee table.
posted by Sequence at 9:36 AM on August 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

I actually think it would be really neat if you set up an Instagram account or something similar to document all your attempts at things. That could help amp up the visibility/ridiculousness aspect of it.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:36 AM on August 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

Learning to snowboard is brutal for the first couple days, particularly if you're not taking a lesson from someone who knows what they're doing. So, teach yourself to snowboard via youtube. Wear wrist guards and a helmet. Bring ibuprofen.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:36 AM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Improv/ ice skating lessons/ stand-up comedy/ toast masters/ singing lessons. This is such a great idea, and I might take it up as a challenge myself!
posted by Champagne Supernova at 9:38 AM on August 13, 2019

When is the last time you went roller skating?
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:40 AM on August 13, 2019

Adult beginner ice skating lessons are *guaranteed* to give you this feeling you seek. I know because I personaly do this. There's a reason why the associated hashtag is #wegetup. Good luck!
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:44 AM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

The suggestion for bartending has given me some intriguing ideas. I am casually-friendly with the owners of the pub up the street, and I wonder if I could maybe talk them into letting me try to jump behind the bar for just an hour one week. (There are probably all kinds of rules against this, but it can't hurt to ask.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:48 AM on August 13, 2019

If you can find a place to rent you equipment (my university intramural program had rentals), ice hockey is the classic example. It was one of the most popular intramurals, but after the first game everyone would drop out because they'd twisted ankles or whatnot. The first period was like watching baby giraffes. In addition to being physically demanding (skating plus hand-eye coordination), the team strategy is not always apparent, so you end up with some people skating in circles in a corner while 8 other people do a conga line behind the puck.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:58 AM on August 13, 2019

Take up millinery.
posted by jgirl at 10:03 AM on August 13, 2019

Enter into a board game tournament for a game you've never played before (or a Magic tournament or similar card game?)
Write a Ted X talk in a subject you aren't an expert in, but have a lot of passion for
Pole dancing class?
Do you speak French? Un peu? Take a weekend trip to Montreal and attempt to communicate in French everywhere you go.
Improv Class?
Roller Derby.
posted by pazazygeek at 10:11 AM on August 13, 2019

Whatever you do, get the best (and by best, I mean worst) images or video and then use them for advertising in public. NYC taxi ads from a quick search start off low "Taxi Top: Range of $300 - $500 per display per 4 week period." Or, get a billboard out in the country somewhere. Go superlow and advertise your failure on soap dispensers in restrooms. Give a friend the budget and let them go nuts with it and then pose in front of your ad.
posted by Gotanda at 10:21 AM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I would suggest that you devote a significant portion of your efforts to things that require you to move your body in ways that you’re not used to.

I’m coming at this from the perspective of having started CrossFit three months ago, and feeling like I already have a much different relationship with my body than I did beforehand. I’m just generally much more aware of and present in my body than I was before. I got exercise before (particularly running) but CrossFit has you doing so many different things that you learn you have abilities you wouldn’t have suspected, and it presents you with constant new experiences.

So, for you: maybe pick something your body doesn’t do well or easily, and give yourself a goal of getting better at it over the course of a month or two. (My suggestion: burpees. You will hate them, but it makes conquering them so much sweeter.)
posted by ocherdraco at 10:29 AM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

HEMA (but only if you're willing to make a good-faith effort to succeed and will take it seriously. It's not nice to the other participants to try to fail. I can tell you from personal experience that there are many opportunities to feel ridiculous even when you're trying hard).
posted by FencingGal at 10:32 AM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Water ballet, filmed of course.
Blind taste 3 different red wines, attempt to identify what type of grape they are, and describe how different they are from each other. This is a good one for a dinner party, as you should get maximum agreement of your descriptions from guests.
Make an outfit out of found materials (a la RuPaul Drag Race) that you must then lip sync perform without it falling off.

Whatever you take up, PLEASE POST THE RESULTS IN PROJECTS!! (I'm really hoping to see a frilly rubber swim cap)
posted by twentyfeetof tacos at 10:43 AM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have to perform a scene/song I'm writing on Sunday. It's kind of terrifying. I'm good at different components of the process, in a way, but the combination plus the _compressed timeline_ plus the fact that most of the other performers have theater degrees -- yah, I'm not expecting a triumph.
posted by amtho at 11:00 AM on August 13, 2019

backseatpilot: I actually think it would be really neat if you set up an Instagram account or something similar to document all your attempts at things.

...And then write a properly-formed sonnet about each one.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:09 AM on August 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

It will amuse you all to know that this has put the song "Dare To Be Stupid" in my head.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:28 AM on August 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

Judging and/or evaluating items/ acts that you know nothing about (fancy dogs, old items, dressage, dance routines)

Archery, throwing knives and/or axes

Collectible card game (CCG) battles, video game contests (including Dance Dance Revolution types)

Note: some one-on-one competitions might result in people being angry at you, in that they see your failed attempts as mocking their passion. Maybe I'm overthinking this, as I don't expect you'll be bluffing your way into high-end competitions, and instead be competing at the ground level matches, where I expect you'll face novices who are looking to get better through competition, so there might be more understanding people, and you might even find a new hobby :)
posted by filthy light thief at 12:08 PM on August 13, 2019

In the same spirit, signing up to do an open mic night playing an obnoxious, loud instrument you've never played, such as the trumpet or accordion.

Even if you already play other musical instruments, trying to learn the violin/fiddle is a recipe for being bad at something. Actually, it's even worse if you already play other instruments because you know what the intonation and timing should sound like.

Student violins can be had for relatively cheap, or you can rent one for a modest fee for a few months just to see how badly it goes.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:36 PM on August 13, 2019

I favorited advicepig's improv-class suggestion; but since you specified one-and-done activities I'll mention that many places offering improv classes also have one-time intro classes where you can experience the notion of improv without having to make a multi-week commitment.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:53 PM on August 13, 2019

Cut your own hair! It'll turn out great!
posted by Munching Langolier at 2:16 PM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sign up for a meetup for an unfamiliar language. Spend the intervening time trying to learn enough to introduce yourself and ask some questions. Turn up at the meetup and see how it goes in reality.

Try Code Retreat! People are friendly, but you'll get plenty of opportunities to feel stupid because of the lack of shared context.

Try to cook something finicky (whatever that means for you - soufflé, or the perfect risotto. Invite some friends to eat it with you.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 2:34 PM on August 13, 2019

A drop-in ballet class (assuming you don't have ballet experience).

In my mid-40s I signed up for a "beginning ballet class" in NYC. I called the place TWICE to make sure it was truly suitable for someone with NO experience, and was told, yes, sure, perfectly suitable. I walked in and immediately sized up the people and knew I was in serious trouble. At one point we had to do solo leaps across the room: run, run, leap! (shouted by the teacher, possibly in French). I was not in search of humiliation but found it anyway.
posted by swheatie at 3:53 PM on August 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

Kpop in public. Posted to youtube of course for maximum visibilty :)
posted by forforf at 4:26 PM on August 13, 2019

Maybe some activities at public parks? Eg spend an hour trying to slam dunk basketballs, run around a track backwards, do tricks on a skateboard or wheelies on a bike, climb a tree, play tennis with yourself by seeing if you can get to the other side to hit the balls back, etc. Maybe parkour.

I think you do have to legit be trying, though (and assume that's part of your plan). It doesn't work as a learned lesson in failing if you sabotage yourself so you knew it wasn't going to work anyway to soften the blow.
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 4:45 PM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sign up for a distance run (10k minimum), don't train, then on race day start way near the front of the group. Make up a previous time to get yourself in one of the first corrals, if needed. (As a warning, this one might piss off a fair amount of fast runners, but if you stay off to one side you should be all right)
posted by Sparky Buttons at 7:11 PM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

has anyone said go to an open mic night at your local comedy club?
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:32 PM on August 13, 2019


Or, perhaps anything involving ice skating.
posted by Citrus at 8:25 PM on August 13, 2019

Take a kayaking class. I kept ending upside down in the pool totally unable to flip myself back over. I'd end up panicking, every single time, and come up sputtering and coughing despite the fact that one of the few things I can do really well is swim. Totally humiliating.
posted by BoscosMom at 9:53 PM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you want to land on you butt, ice skating or roller skating - wear snow pants to soften the fall.

I laughed a lot when I was trying to surf, because it was really hard and really fun to get tossed in the waves every time I fell off the board.

Two step country dancing is also really hard, but really fun to get flung around.
posted by Toddles at 10:29 PM on August 13, 2019

It’s county & State Farm Fair season in MidAtlantia. There are PLENTY of contests that are open to the public which can range from pie baking to pie eating to buffalo chip tossing. Check with your local 4-H/FFA people. Adult open class has judges. There are often esoteric events like Coon Mule jumping. You must wear a helmet for that one.
posted by childofTethys at 10:45 PM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

has anyone said go to an open mic night at your local comedy club?

About five people. :-)

And last night I seriously googled for water ballet groups near me and may reach out to one with an email saying "so I'm not necessarily interested in classes, because I have this crazy idea...."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:24 AM on August 14, 2019

Indoor rock climbing gym
posted by valeries at 9:55 AM on August 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Woodworking in general, but carving in specific.
Buy a sharp carving knife, and carve yourself a statue of your favorite animal from a chunk of wood.
*maybe* you'll succeed, but when I tried it, the misshapen shard of wood bore *zero* resemblance to my dog. I've gotten marginally better over the years, but it was much harder than I thought it would be.
posted by krieghund at 10:34 AM on August 15, 2019

Regretfully I am going to table this for a few months; I've realized that no matter what I do it's going to take a back seat to trying to get myself out of debt, which is less than a year off. But once I am out of debt....

Will keep you all posted. Check back next summer.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:39 AM on September 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

« Older I want to get HIIT in New York City   |   Out Damned Spot Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.