The Joy of Doing Something Badly

You don't always have to be perfect


When I was a kid, I wanted to be perfect. I thought you had to be perfect for anyone to love you – besides, of course, the people who were supposed to love you (Mom, Dad, brother, Grandma, etc.)

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Even though I believed your family automatically had to love you (I’ve since learned this is not true), I figured that if I were perfect, they would love me a little bit more.

Is it any wonder I grew up with panic attacks?

I tried really, really hard at everything, all of the time. I remember being in third grade and crying because I wasn’t good at basketball in gym class.

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My teacher said, “Sara, everybody is naturally better at some things than others. That’s why people are interesting! I couldn’t make that beautiful potpourri sachet you made me for the holidays. I could try, but you can do it naturally and easily. Just keep trying to make small improvements at basketball. Don’t be too hard on yourself.”

It was a wonderful sentiment, and the fact that I kept trying is probably why my gym teachers usually loved me even though I sucked at sports. But I continued to be too hard on myself. I still do, actually.

That’s why I’ve realized it’s important to try things at which I may be bad. It’s why I decided to try to teach myself to make pasta – and to my surprise, I’m kind of good at it! It’s really fun.

I also decided to try to teach myself to parallel park – to no one’s surprise, I remain as awful a parker as I was when I failed that part of my driver’s license test twice many years ago. Parallel parking is less fun than pasta making, but at least I was able to laugh at myself.

My friend has a gift for doing hair and makeup. She had some training in makeup when she worked at a beauty boutique, but ultimately she’s self-taught and incredibly impressive. She’s a visual artist by nature. Though she’s read up on new techniques and tricks, I think she was born with the eye for this kind of work.

I don’t have her gift, but I keep learning slowly and trying new things. On Halloween, I finally did a passable eyeliner wing as part of my cat makeup. What a glorious victory! I still can’t blend, but I’m working on it. And I’m having a great time doing it.

There is a strange kind of joy in doing something without trying to be the best. It is enormously freeing to paint pottery just for the heck of it, or write poetry just because you love it.

I’m not telling you to throw your fears aside and step boldly forth into the unknown. You won’t catch me singing or dancing in public anytime soon. But the next time you find perfectionism getting in the way of a potentially good time, kindly inform perfectionism that it can step aside until the next time you decide to clean your room.

Now pick something you’re curious about, and sign up for an introductory workshop. Find an instructional YouTube video. Ask a friend to show you the ropes. Whatever your “in” may be, you’ll grow just by making the attempt. And you may end up finding you’ve got hidden talents you never suspected. Or you may just laugh a lot. That’s good, too.