Fear of Speaking: The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good


I was watching the HBO Series Westworld (highly recommended) recently at the time of writing this post, and one of the points made Anthony Hopkins character was that the entirety of life's evolution and natural selection has been born of mistakes. It is from mistakes the we become better and recognize our weak points.

Does this mean “learn from your mistakes?” Actually, not exactly, a mistake's usefulness is recognizing that something didn’t work, but it doesn’t require further analysis, you just need to know “Oh, not that” and move on. Focus on what you are listening to or reading and you will naturally get better, maybe eventually even becoming good. Input is always the way forward when it comes to improving in language acquisition.

You know what you’ll never be? Perfect.

Photo credit: mugwumpian on Visual Hunt / CC BY

Photo credit: mugwumpian on Visual Hunt / CC BY

I really hate the idea of perfection. Perfection is boring. Mistakes are fun, and you can just laugh them off, and remind yourself what an interesting thing it is to use this weird meat computer in our skull to try and solve things. Having a standard of perfection WILL stop you from ever being good, because it is an unattainable goal that pits you against your inevitable IM-perfection.

Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
— Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

When you are going to speak with someone in Chinese, relax and get ready to enjoy your various mistakes. Ask you friends, “Oh, can I say this?” or “How do you guys say X?” Make fun of yourself. Be fine with listening. Repeat things people just said and say “did I say that right? what’s that mean?” Throw out ideas of perfection, and you are getting rid of one of your greatest barriers not only to fluency, but just enjoying yourself.