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There have been many times in my life when I've thought, "I'm not good at ANYTHING."
And every time I thought that I realized something important.
My mental activity was always a reflection of what was going on around me, not a truth about who I was as a person.
And I was falling victim to the external-locus-of-control trap.
In other words, I relied on the world to validate and tell me what I was good at.
But that's not how life works.
I've never built up skills of any sort just by waiting around.
Now I know, without any doubt, that feeling like I'm not good at anything is more a sign of my mental health state than of my reality.
So today I'm going to share how I notice when I'm thinking this way--and what I do when negative self-talk starts to consume me.
What Does "I'm Not Good at Anything!" Mean?
As you can probably tell, I'm really hard on myself.
I think it comes from being a lifelong people-pleaser.
I played the role of mediator in my family, always wanting to make sure that everyone was happy.
I perceived any issues in the family as an issue with myself.
This kind of thinking carried on into my teenage years, through college, and then through much of my twenties.
I beat myself up when anything went wrong, and then I immediately pinned the blame on myself, even if any person looking at the situation could confidently say that I was definitely not to blame.
It didn't matter. It was just how I felt.
As I read self-help books and eventually went to therapy, I realized that people-pleasing had funny terms to define it.
Codependency was one of them. Low self-esteem was another.
In an odd way, realizing that there were clear definitions to describe what I was going through helped me feel better.
One of the trickiest aspects of improving mental health is first having the words to know what is going on in your brain and body.
Eventually, I developed a more nuanced understanding of what it meant to be good at something.
And I realized that when I was thinking, "I'm no good. I'm worthless. Why am I not good at anything?" I meant any number of things.
Finding clarity helped me move forward.
For instance, saying "I am not good at anything..." could mean any of the following:
- I feel like no one likes / loves me
- I'm scared and want to get out of this bad situation
- I don't think I have the skills to do this task
- My daily life is overwhelming me, and I don't know what to do
- I don't know what I'm supposed to do with my life
- I have no idea what kind of career I would enjoy
- I have no achievements. I've accomplished nothing.
When you look at this list, you quickly realize that the statement, "I'm no good at anything" could have any number of root causes.
It could have to do with your relationships, or it could have to do with your career.
Or, it might have nothing to do with either of these and have everything do to about the current environment you find yourself in.
Before you can figure out if you're good at anything, you have to get incredibly clear on if you're talking about a feeling type of situation or a talent type of situation.
I've realized that, more often than not, I'm dealing with a feeling and beating myself up inside of my mind.
Very rarely am I thinking about a deficit in my skills or knowledge.
The second kind of thinking would indicate that I have enough knowledge in the first place to realize that I'm lacking something. That kind of thinking would indicate that I'm already on a path to being good at something.
So, you first need to ask yourself an important question:
Am I talking about feelings of inadequacy, or am I talking about tangible skills that I wish I had?
There's a huge difference between the two.
Now that we've discussed the roots of negative thinking, you should have a better idea of what kind of support you need.
What follows are the top tips I've learned for dealing with feeling like I'm not good at anything or that I have no talent whatsoever.
I encourage you to look at each tip through a "feeling" lens and then through a "professional / skill" lens.
Top Tips / Ideas When You Think You're Not Good at Anything
1. Ask, "Is it really possible for a person to not be good at ANYTHING?"
When you look at other people, do you think this?
Do you declare, without a shadow of a doubt, that your coworker, barista, or friend is not good at anything?
If you take the time to transpose your negative thoughts onto other people's lives, it doesn't seem very likely.
In fact, the idea seems ridiculous.
Look at the people around you, each one doing the best to live their life.
If they weren't good at anything, you'd never even see them. They wouldn't make it past childhood.
There are all types of people, and we all have our natural abilities.
Just getting up and going about your day is a choice to get better at something.
It's a fact of life is that nothing can ever stay the same.
2. Could you just be going through a tough time?
Take a second to ask yourself a really important question.
How are you doing right now?
How are you doing?
Has life been more difficult than usual?
Are you balancing a lot?
It's OK if you are.
As I mentioned earlier, I'm the kind of person who wants everything to be OK.
For the longest time, I figured that if other people around me were happy, then I must be happy. If I can take on more tasks and help more people, then I figured I must be doing well.
The problem is that this is a worldview steeped in low self-esteem, not the reality of my deepest feelings.
And doing everything for everyone was not a path to happiness--it was a road that led to burnout.
Every time my life has spun out of control--and it has happened a lot--has been because I've been neglecting my feelings and, in the process, neglecting to care for myself.
Remember this: life is not easy. It gets seriously difficult from time to time.
And you might just be experiencing one of those rough patches.
It's only natural to blame yourself when life falls apart.
You're one person, and you need to be kind to the one person that you are.
You've come a long way to get to this point, and any negative feelings you're having are signs to stop and understand them, not try to claw and tear your way through a life that is hard enough as it is.
3. There are so many kinds of intelligence, and we are all better at some than others
Dr. Howard Gardner of the Harvard Graduate School of Education developed a theory that has had a big impact on me.
According to his Theory of Multiple Intelligences, there are not only a few types of intelligence--but many.
Here they are, wonderfully listed out by the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at Northern Illinois University:
- Verbal-linguistic intelligence (well-developed verbal skills and sensitivity to the sounds, meanings and rhythms of words)
- Logical-mathematical intelligence (ability to think conceptually and abstractly, and capacity to discern logical and numerical patterns)
- Spatial-visual intelligence (capacity to think in images and pictures, to visualize accurately and abstractly)
- Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (ability to control one’s body movements and to handle objects skillfully)
- Musical intelligence (ability to produce and appreciate rhythm, pitch and timber)
- Interpersonal intelligence (capacity to detect and respond appropriately to the moods, motivations and desires of others)
- Intrapersonal (capacity to be self-aware and in tune with inner feelings, values, beliefs and thinking processes)
- Naturalist intelligence (ability to recognize and categorize plants, animals and other objects in nature)
- Existential intelligence (sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence such as, “What is the meaning of life? Why do we die? How did we get here?”)
With so many types of intelligence, there is just no way that one person could be bad at all of those.
Everyone has a natural proclivity for at least one form of intelligence.
Take a look at that list of the nine intelligences again.
Now, think about all of the experiences you've had in your life.
I'm sure you recognize yourself in at least one of those forms of intelligence.
Verbal-linguistic intelligence is something that I've always had, and I'm not just saying that because I'm a blogger.
I realize that I probably became a blogger because I'm incredibly stupid in other areas.
And you know what?
It's not my fault that I'm bad at certain things. It's just how it is
For instance, I now know that I have something called aphantasia, which prevents me from forming any images in my mind's eye. It makes it incredibly difficult to navigate new areas that I move to or visit because I can't create a visual representation in my head of where I've been.
When I realized that I couldn't imagine images in my mind like other people, I felt stupid for the longest time. I felt like there was something wrong with me, and I doubted my ability to ever get good at spatial reasoning and visual tasks.
But what I didn't acknowledge was that my weakness in one area led to strength in another.
I have a good sense of how words work, and I've learned that words themselves can form beautiful structures and shapes.
I also know now that my inability to imagine pictures and scenes in my mind makes it very easy for me to concentrate on others in the present moment.
I can be hyperfocused not only on the words people use--but also on how they carry themselves physically and emotionally. My interpersonal intelligence led me to eventually become a social worker.
All of this leads me to a final point.
Your Negative Feelings Are About Self-Esteem and Negative Self-Talk, Not An Actual Lack of Skills
Saying that you're not good at anything or that you have no talent is representing something else.
Usually that "something else" is a feeling lying beneath the surface.
However you phrase it, whether it's "I suck at everything" or "I'm the worst at everything" or "I'm bad at everything," you're usually covering up a feeling that lurking just out of sight.
If you can identify the feeling, you can then do something about it.
And all negative feelings are creating the monster that is low self-esteem.
I've had it, and I still have it.
What's different about how I handled it in my teens and twenties versus how I handle it now is that I see it for what it is.
When I first started blogging 5+ years ago, but my sentences were laughable. They went on and on and were full of big words that I thought made me sound important.
Hundreds of blog posts later, I write from the heart, and I write with brevity.
It took time for me to learn this skill.
That's how it is with everything in life.
You're good at many things, and when you identify the feelings holding you back, you'll be good at many, many more.