During eight or so years that I've worked as a foreign language teacher, I've seen one problem coming up again and again with my students: Many of them are afraid of making mistakes, which ends up it really slowing down their learning process.
I used to be the same way. For a long time, I was very afraid of speaking foreign languages, because I doubted about myself so much.
That exact same thing–being too afraid of making mistakes–happens in other areas of our lives too. But if we want to grow and get better in whatever we are doing, we have to be okay with making mistakes, instead of waiting until we're perfect.
Waiting for Perfection is Slowing You Down
If you want to get better at something, you have to get over the fear of making mistakes and simply get started. I'm using language learning as an example, because that's what I've seen and done a lot.
A long time ago, I had a friend with whom I studied German together. We were still very beginners, and if you have tried to learn a foreign language, you know how irritating it is when you have about a million thoughts in your head that you want to express, but your vocabulary consists of only two hundred words.
One day, my friend told me that she is not going to use German outside of our language class before she is perfect in it.
Saying anything like this is absolutely insane. She wasn't a native speaker of German, nor was she going to go live in Germany for the next 10 years, which is about the amount of time that it takes to become very fluent in a foreign language.
That meant that she would never be able to speak German, if she was waiting for perfection.
Without practice, there's no way to get better. You can talk to yourself in your head, trying to get every single article and case ending right, but if you're not using these skills in real life, they're useless.
What If I. . .
But I used to be the same way.
When I moved to Finland for the first time about 10 years ago, my Finnish was by no means great. And I was so damn afraid of making mistakes.
I remember going to a library or a store and speaking English instead of Finnish, because I felt more comfortable in English. I could have spoken Finnish, but I was so insecure: What if I don't have enough words? What if I accidentally say something stupid?
Phone calls were the hardest. There were numerous times I would dial the number and press the call button, then hang up before the phone started ringing. I repeated the same thing for about ten times before I actually made that call.
Here's how I should have thought about it: The fact that I'm trying to speak a foreign language is awesome itself. If a foreigner tried to talk my language, I'd be very pleased, instead of thinking how terribly incorrect her pronounciation is. Why would other people then make fun of my mistakes?
And deep inside, I knew that speaking wrong helps me much more than not speaking at all.
The same is true in other areas in your life where you want to change something. Is it better to make a mistake and learn from it, or never even try and never find out what would have come out from it?
The Fear of Being Judged
Later when I was still living in Finland, I started dating a guy who was Estonian like me, but who had lived in Finland for about 20 years. Of course, his Finnish was close to near-native level. Nobody could even tell that Finnish wasn't his first language.
He wasn't judgmental person at all, but I always felt uncomfortable speaking Finnish when he was there. I thought he was judging my poor language. When we got together with friends, I didn't pretty much open my mouth at all. I was trying to be perfect. By the time I got a grammatically perfect sentence together in my mind, the discussion had already moved on and the last topic was already forgotten.
I was so afraid to be judged (and with no reason at all!) that I was okay with being an extremely boring company, but I wasn't okay with speaking grammatically “imperfect” language.
Everything started to change when I started practicing, practicing and practicing more. Taking the “risk” of saying things wrong, “embarrassing” myself in front of others and not getting the grammar “perfect” made a major difference in becoming fluent.
Trying to be Perfect Is Holding You Back
Don't wait for perfection. There's no such thing anyway. In real life, there's usually no perfect time and conditions, and jumping before you are ready is often the best thing you can do.
Kids are the great example of not overthinking things but still finding the way to express themselves. Years ago I was traveling with my mom, sister and my then 4-years old niece. We were hanging out at a poolside where she was playing with a bunch of other kids, who were all from different countries: Germany, Turkey and Russia, and she was from Estonia.
They didn't know each others languages, but that didn't stop them from communicating with one another. All of a sudden, they all got up, took each others hands and started walking to the other side of the playground.
Apparently, the had agreed about something and decided to go somewhere, and they did it without even understanding each other's language.
How amazing is that? Kids don't worry if they are perfect or not, if they “embarrass” themselves in front of others by making mistakes, or if they say things “wrong”. They just go and do things, express themselves the way that feels right and the best way they can.
That's definitely something us adults should learn from kids.
If You Want To Change Something, Jump!
A few years ago I changed my career from linguistics to fitness. It was a huge change and I did't know what I was getting myself into, but I did it. I was so done with my PhD, trying to publish articles in linguistic journals that I didn't even want to read anymore.
I had lost the interest for theoretical linguistics many years ago.
If you are in a similar situation, you'll burn out, sooner or later. That's the reality.
So I jumped and changed my career. But this time, I didn't even try to be perfect. I knew that not everything will be great from day one. It's not great 1.5 years later either. But that's absolutely fine, because I'm so much happier now.
When I was getting ready for the first workday at a gym and told my husband how nervous I was, he took it easy and told me: “Worrying isn't going to help you. I'm pretty sure you'll mess up something anyway.”
It may not sound very encouraging, but he was right: You can't wait that everything goes absolutely smoothly when it's your first day at your new job!
But you'll always figure things out. You can't expect everything to be sunhsine and roses from the day one after you've made that jump. It hasn't been for me, but at least I've taken steps to the right direction and moved closer to what really inspires me and makes me happy. I really enjoy teaching bootcamps and training clients and I'm glad that I started this site where I can share my thoughts in my not perfect foreign language. That's absolutely fine.
Of course, changing a career is a way bigger risk than speaking a foreign language that you're not yet very good at. However, it's similar: If you want to keep growing, you can't sit and wait for the time, conditions and your skills to be perfect.
Don't let the perfect to be the enemy of the good. Most of the time, good is exactly what you need.
Stars will never align. There's no perfect time to change your job, start learning or speaking a new language, break free from a bad relationship, start traveling or working out.
Don't miss out on great things in life, just because you're afraid to look foolish, don't want to make mistakes or you're too concerned about what others may think about you. Jumping before you have all figured out may feel scary, but getting out of the comfort zone is the only way to change anything.