Here’s Your Permission to *Enjoy* Being Bad at Something
November 2, 2018
I've gotten a little newsflash lately and I wanted to share it with you: I’m never going to be perfect at everything I try.
And you know what? That's OK.
I've accepted the fact that I'm not going to be an Olympian-level runner or a brilliant photographer or paint like that poofy-haired genius Bob Ross.
It wasn’t always this way.
I was often scared to take on something new. (Who isn’t?) I remember the fear of buying running shoes for the first time. Actual fear. About shoes! Laying down money for the shoes meant I was going to go for a run, and that meant there was a potential for failure, or coming up short. And you know what? That actually happened. I wasn’t immediately running marathons. I wasn’t even running down the block. But I bought the shoes—and I used them. That was my willingness to be bad—and an unyielding desire to just try.
Meanwhile, I found joy in the actual process. Each run became a sort of meditative exercise—an enjoyment unto itself. Rather than constantly focusing on my times or any specific goals, I ran simply because I liked the cool air on my skin and the sound of my feet tapping the pavement.
There's a lot of joy to be found in doing things just for kicks.
Because when was the last time you started something, just to start? Just for the joy of doing the thing, not whatever end result you might think you need? As Rosie Spinks writes, we should revel in the joy of doing things we will never master: "We can dabble, meander, dip our toes in projects (we) have no business being in—and not feel the need to tell anyone about how much we did or didn’t accomplish," she says.
This comes with a few side effects: You're probably not going to post about your efforts on Instagram, or promote the heck out of whatever you just did. But that's one benefit of simply enjoying the process: you have a private exercise that's for you—not for public consumption. But you’ll find joy in embracing your willingness to be bad.
Willing to Be Bad
The concept of “willing to be bad” was sparked by the blog of writer and artist Austin Kleon, who often advocates sharing your creative work—even if it’s not perfect. Your initial power and momentum comes from willing to do it at all. The recipe for success, writes Kleon, is that you will need curiosity, kindness, stamina, and a willingness to look stupid.
Here’s how you can cultivate an attitude of joy while you try, and try again.
Remind Yourself: No One’s Watching as Closely As You
So often we don’t try new endeavors because of that little voice that says, “But what will everybody think?” I am here to kindly tell you: No one is thinking about you. Not in a mean way! Your friends and family care about your well-being and, hopefully, support you. But they are not monitoring your progress like they’re a paid-in-full life coach. Here’s my bet, based on what I’ve witnessed over the years: They will cheer you on, and perhaps even be inspired by your ability to try something new. Even if you don’t crush it. Even if you spectacularly miss the mark. And if someone does judge you? That’s on them. You just keep tackling those mini-goals, one by one.
Embrace Progress Over Perfection
Maybe you want to become a painter/guitarist/pottery artist. Ask yourself: Do you have to be the best? Or do you only want to learn a new skill? The finish-line goal doesn't have to be your primary focus. What are your stepping-stone goals? Creating these provides you with little loops of feedback—when you achieve one, your confidence grows and you move on to the next.
Keep Track of Your Starting Point
A funny thing happens when you start something new and put in a little bit of energy. You probably underestimate the amount of effort it takes to excel (dubbed “effort shock” by this article). Effort shock is when you go, “Oh, right, this is hard.” And yet, a different emotion arises as you keep going. As you do get better, you forget where you started. That’s why it’s crucial to monitor your progress. You can keep a creative diary where you document your process—after a few months, flip back to the beginning and be amazed how little you knew then, and how much you know now. It’ll be the “I got this” proof you need the next time you start something new.
Recognize Where You Are Today
Finally, I think our willingness to try new things can change. When I was a kid, I whined about practicing the piano—and so I never got better, and eventually quit. My mom told me I would probably regret that; 20 years later, she’s right. But here’s the thing: I’m older, and smarter, and probably a heck of a lot more patient. And I could start playing the piano again tomorrow. In fact, I'm going to go look at keyboards tonight.
I don't have to ask myself if I'll be Beethoven by the end of the year. The only question I truly have to ask is, "Will this bring me joy?" If the answer is yes, then I'll place my hands over the keys. It's time to begin.
Read next: How to Screw Up Perfectly