How the internet creates standards that are impossible to live up to.
I’m the best juggler I know.
It may sound like a bold statement, but to be fair, I only know a couple other jugglers.
I started juggling a decade ago. I began with a three-ball cascade, the most basic of all juggling patterns. From there, I started adding increasingly complex tricks and learning to juggle four and then five balls at a time.
When I was first learning, I’d practice for hours a day. I’d study juggling videos online. I’d record myself so that I could work on improving my form.
Unfortunately, even as I was getting ever better at juggling, I never felt satisfied with my rate of progress. The internet was full of videos of people who had been juggling for half as long as I had and were already better at it than I could ever hope to be.
No matter how good I got, or how fast I improved, I knew that there were thousands of other jugglers out there who would always be better than me.
It didn’t matter to me that I was the best juggler I knew. In the grand scheme of things, I still felt like an absolute beginner.
I felt discouraged. After a couple of years, I gave the hobby up, feeling like I had failed at it.
Learning Online is a Double-Edged Sword
The internet has given us an unprecedented level of access to the experts of the world.
We can instantly find tutorials for nearly every hobby or skill imaginable. We can join forums to discuss even our most obscure interests. And, we have the ability to watch our hobbies performed by people who are literally the best in the world at them.
This level of access is a revolutionary learning tool. We can get better at new hobbies faster than ever because all the advice we’ll ever need is right at our fingertips.
When we have questions about what we’re doing, we can reach out to thousands of other enthusiasts, as well as the experts themselves.
We can even download apps and other tools developed specifically for our unusual hobbies.
Despite all these benefits though, learning online is a double-edged sword. As I discovered with juggling, when we spend too much time watching the best in the world, it’s hard to resist comparing ourselves to them. And when we do, we will inevitably feel like we’ve fallen short.
We Don’t Have To Be Great at Everything We Do.
With 7.7 billion people in the world, the chances that any of us will ever be truly best in the world at something are almost non-existent. For most of our hobbies, we’ll never even crack the top 10%.
Unfortunately, discussions about hobbies and skills on the internet frequently focus on how to be great at something, rather than how to do it for fun. Even when we’re not trying to be the best in the world at something, often the people we interact with online are.
We can easily be misled into thinking that we have to put more energy into a new hobby than we really need to.
The key to avoiding this trap is to keep our original goals in mind. Did we pick up a new hobby in order to compete in it? Or just to have something to do on the weekend?
I remember reading a post in a juggling forum that said new jugglers need to spend at least a couple hours a day juggling. If our goal is to enter juggling competitions, that may be true, but if our goal is just to have fun, it’s certainly an exaggeration.
Years after giving up juggling, I started running. Again, I turned to the internet for advice, but this time I entered it with healthier expectations.
I know that I will never be the fastest person in my neighborhood, let alone the world. So, I learn from the experts, but I don’t try to copy their training schedules.
My goals from running are to stay fit, improve my mental health, and have a good time. I can do all of that on my own schedule, with no pressure to improve any faster than I want to.
When we stop comparing ourselves to the greats, we can finally start to enjoy our hobbies for what they are: a fun way to enrich our lives.