For Educators: The Importance of Being Bad at Things


My ego got bruised today. See, I think I’m a pretty good dancer. I took dance classes as a kid, and even worked as a fitness instructor for a handful of years. I definitely think I can keep a beat. Generally I feel in control of my body and like I have coordination.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when I showed up for a drop-in beginner-level hip hop dance class today and made a fool of myself. There were a few problems. First, I just couldn’t make the moves look cool. Even simple stuff, like step-touches, just didn’t look right, at least, not as good as they looked when the instructor demoed them. And there was no avoiding this realization – you’re dancing in front of yourself in the mirror. The second problem was the choreography. Keeping a sequence of 12-15 physical movements in memory isn’t something I’ve done in a while, and I totally sucked at it. I had to constantly watch the instructor, so I was always just a little behind everyone else. Which didn’t help the “looking cool” thing either.

By the end of the class, I really wanted it to be over. And I pouted for a bit afterward. I was bummed. And interestingly, that was exactly the feeling I was looking for.

At HackerYou, we now train about 350 students per year – about 100 full-time students, and then another 250 or so part-time students. What we’re teaching those students isn’t always easy. Getting started can be intimidating. There’s a bunch of stuff you have to learn before you can take on projects that are really cool or interesting, and there are so many little things that can trip you up throughout the learning journey – even just syntax.

As HackerYou’s CEO, it’s important to me that I remember what it’s like to be a beginner, because I want to make sure I can empathize with our students. And one of the best ways to do that, I’ve found, is to do something so completely out of my comfort zone that at the end of the first day, I almost want to quit.

Two years ago, I learned how to snowboard. All I can say is, ouch. Earlier this year, I learned to drive stick. I hired an instructor – someone whose job is to teach people who know how to drive automatic vehicles to drive standard ones – and still found it to be one of the toughest learning curves I’ve ever endured.

So was I kind of bummed today when I discovered that I’m not going to be busting out some sweet new moves and choreography this weekend? Sure. But I’m actually happier to have discovered something new that I’m going to have to work really hard at. Some days, I’ll want to give up. And every time I go through an experience where I have that feeling I become just a little bit better at counselling and guiding our students at HackerYou.

The other cool thing about being bad at something is that the only direction you can go is up. And that’s a fun journey, too.