Anything worth doing is worth doing badly Print E-mail
News - Final Word
Thursday, 22 April 2010 16:50
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Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. There’s no typo in the heading. And I cannot begin to explain to you how much pleasure it gives me to see the wellworn cliché turned upside down.

It was English writer, GK Chesterton, who first said “anything worth doing is worth doing badly”. I wish I’d realised this when I gave up playing the piano. See, when I was in primary school, my mother sent me for piano lessons. I was a conscientious child and did fairly all rightish – even passed my grade one exams – but I was no child prodigy.

Where I got the idea that the choice was between being a budding Beethoven or nothing at all, I’ll tell you just now. The point is that I wish I had stayed in mediocre-piano-playing mode just for the pleasure of today’s late-night sing-alongs. It certainly seems something worth doing badly.

Anything music-related might not be a good example here. Somehow performers and artists are never forgiven for being mediocre. It’s as if you’re allowed to hit the till indifferently, be a so-so waiter or a lukewarm receptionist, but you can’t be an inadequate artist.

Remember the story of the nightingale that pierced its heart on a thorn as a stimulus for genius? He died knowing that the last notes he sang in anguish were the most beautiful ever heard on planet earth. And that was all that was important to him – genius, not happiness.

Thing is, so many minor singers, songwriters, painters and poets will gladly take their chests to a thorn to give their very best which is, sadly, not good enough to be classed as genius and never will be. The kind of message mediocre artists get is that it’s a deadly sin to be sincere when you’re second-rate.

This is how we’ve ended up with generations of people who hone in on things they’re good at, and seldom try anything new. Are you okay with this idea? For I’m certainly not. I think we’re sitting with truck loads full of unused muses who are never embraced for the creative inspiration they so long to provide.

Granted, your piano, pottery or poetry muse might be kind of lame, but once you open yourself up to the possibility of “doing it badly”, you will find that neither fear not criticism can penetrate the bliss you’ll feel by expressing yourself.

We’re meant to have fun with this, you know. We’re not supposed to keep an eye on the scoreboard or a neighbour’s drawing board. Maybe, to take the edge off, we should rather use the word ‘play’ when describing our activities.

Life coach Martha Beck recommends substituting the word ‘play’ for the word ‘work’. According to Martha your essential self has a natural rhythm consisting of two phases, which she calls ‘rest’ and ‘play’.

“This is not to say that play is easy,” Martha says. “Real creativity, which is the essence of play, can feel absolutely gruelling. But ultimately there is a sense of joy and meaning in having done it. The essential self doesn’t mind hard work. But it will reject meaningless work.”

None of us is born with a guidebook that tells us exactly how to find meaning in things. After taking our first knock, we might opt for safety, albeit at the cost of boredom, and develop a set of habits and routines to ground us - a comfort zone.

Thing is that this comfort zone eventually defeats its initial purpose and then becomes a straightjacket. So, don’t let the illusions trick you. You need neither safety nor comfort as intensely as you need novelty, surprise and unexpected situations.

It’s worth dealing with them badly as long as you show up, be present and allow events to unfold. Life is your stage. This is your show. Go break a leg.

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