Being bad at things can be good

A few years ago when I was in college, I asked a friend to join me on an intramural softball team. She looked at me as if I were crazy. “Thanks, but I’m terrible at softball,” she said with a laugh.

“That’s okay, I am too!” I replied. “But every team has to have four girls on the field to qualify, so you’re helping out no matter how good or bad you are.”

My friend shook her head. “Sorry, I only do things I’m good at.”

Then it was my turn to look at her as if she were crazy.

Yes, it’s normal to want to be good at things, but do we have to be good at everything we do? And how can we get good at something if we don’t practice when we’re still terrible? Do we have to get an A in a subject for it to be fun or have value?

When I was a girl, I remember believing I was a natural-born artist. Both my parents were architects, so how could the ability to draw, paint, and design not flow through my veins? My parents must have thought the same thing, because they bought me sketchpads and fancy pencils, canvases and paint.

Much to our collective surprise, I could barely color within the lines.

Determined to live up to the talent in my blood, I took art classes almost every summer. Over time I did improve, but I was never the best student in the class. There was always someone with better technique, greater imagination, or both. But even though I wasn’t going to be the next Monet, I didn’t quit.

Because sometimes things we’re bad at can still be good for us. For example, art, music, and dance are all powerful creative outlets, allowing you to express what you’re thinking and feeling even when you don’t know exactly what that is. Sports are group athletics, so you get the physical benefits of exercise plus the social benefits of hanging out with your teammates. Cooking and gardening are both challenging — at least to me! — but they can really nurture your spirit and help you tune in to nature.

In this day and age, with a million things vying for our attention every minute of every day, simply taking time out for yourself is therapeutic, no matter what you’re doing. So even when my boyfriend tells me my drawing looks like a sausage (it was our dog!) I feel calmer and happier just for having given myself those fifteen minutes to sketch. I don’t have to be the next Monet to love art, or the next Michael Phelps to enjoy a dip in the pool, or the next Iron Chef America to appreciate my kitchen.

We spend so much of our lives being graded — in school, at work, even among our friends and family. We try so hard to please everyone else that we forget to make ourselves happy.

So forget your critics, and forget your fans. Do something for yourself. Even if you’re bad at it.

One Comment

Angie May 13, 2009

Like salsa dancing. You know it.