Beware of Self-Pedestalling, the Newbie’s Curse

a pedestal
Image by Elliott Brown / CC BY

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to someone who ventured out into brand new territory, found that they absolutely sucked at the new thing, and were devastated.

I’m here to tell you: It’s 100% normal to not instantly be great at something when you’re new to it.

Yes, even if you’ve read up about it, talked to other people who have experience with it, and devoted a lot of time thinking over what the potential pitfalls can be.

It doesn’t matter what it is. There is no substitute for actual lived experience.

That doesn’t mean that it isn’t good to prepare. It absolutely is. But preparation isn’t the same as experience.

I’ve found that preparation is important for a few different reasons:

  • It helps you become aware of possible safety measures you can implement as you’re learning something new. This helps to stave off grave injury as a beginner.
  • Preparation helps you prepare mental schema regarding the area in question. This gives you a place to put what you learn through actual experience once you get there. Does this mean you suck less when you’re doing the thing? Truthfully, usually not. You typically are just as awful as if you hadn’t prepared, particularly at the very beginning. But what it does mean is that you learn more productive lessons from the mistakes you do make.

Essentially: Preparation doesn’t prevent you from making dumb rookie mistakes. It does make you less likely to seriously injure yourself (or others). And it means that you learn more from those inevitable dumb rookie mistakes.

I’ve found that many other people have unrealistic expectations of their preparation, however. And that there’s a trap they fall into when they’re learning how to do something new: Self-pedestalling.

What Is Self-Pedestalling?

A person who self-pedestals when they’re learning how to do something new (again, whatever it is) overestimates their ability to perform the new task well.

This can happen for a number of different reasons: People can possess global attitudes of unreasonably high self-regard. Or in other words, they can think awfully highly of themselves as general, basically assume that they’re James Bond and can easily pick up something new and rawk at it with no prior knowledge or experience. Perhaps they’ve lucked out in another endeavor or two and now just assume that’s the way everything goes. Or perhaps they believe that unchecked self-love will bestow them with superpowers (hard to blame them, since many a Disney movie reinforces this idea).

Whatever the case, there are people who serially self-pedestal at baseline. And they are typically quite devastated when they aren’t instantly good at things. When this happens, they’ll typically do one of two things:

  1. Scramble to distort the truth as it is, tell themselves and others a story in which they are excellent at the task in question.
  2. Quit immediately. Never talk about it again.

These folks are rather notorious and memorable to those who deal with them — and I’d imagine if you thought for a few moments, you could easily name a few people you’ve known over the years who were like this.

However, this isn’t the only way to end up self-pedestalling. The other pitfall can happen to literally anyone.

You Can Also End Up Self-Pedestalling By Emotionally Confusing Preparation With Experience

Particularly diligent and grounded people can also end up self-pedestalling. And it’s not because they think they’re anything special or destined for greatness. But because they know that they’re not and therefore end up extensively researching and preparing to undertake the new task.

As I mentioned earlier in this essay, preparation is a good thing and in general quite important.

But again, it’s no substitute for actual experience. And when you prepare enough that you start to run the risk of emotionally confusing your preparation with skill, then you’re at risk for self-pedestalling — even if you’re generally down to earth and have moderate or low self-regard.

To avoid self-pedestalling, it’s best to keep one’s expectations low when setting out into a new venture. The fact is that even well-prepared people are prone to making rookie mistakes. It’s the way it goes. Even famous artists have exceptionally novice first attempts, pieces that are flawed, derivative, or otherwise unremarkable.

Odds are that you’re not going to be great the first time you try something — no matter how much you prepare before actually diving in.

It can be pretty annoying — and humbling. But it’s the way it is.

And it’s important to keep this in mind, so that you can avoid this pitfall. Because regardless of the reason you end up self-pedestalling, regardless of whether it’s via unchecked self-love or by placing too much stock in thorough preparation, it can be all too easy to quit when your expectations don’t match reality. And when you do that, you’re quitting just as you’re beginning to learn — the biggest shame of all.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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