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One of the most common sayings is

Anything worth doing is worth doing well

I think this perverse.  It is both obvious and incorrect (not easy to manage!).  I think it ought to be

Anything worth doing is worth doing badly

Why?  Join me below the fold to find out

In any field of endeavor, there will be a few people who do magnificently well.  Most of us, the vast majority of us, will not do so well.  No matter how much you practiced as a kid (or adult), no matter your desire or ambition, you will not play basketball like Michael Jordan.  Yet, we constantly hector ourselves and each other to 'improve', 'do better' and so on. To what end?

Clearly, to be successful in a career you will have to do your job reasonably well (unless you are a CEO or a politician....). And clearly there are some things which should not be done by people who are not competent: I do not want to have my surgery performed by someone who's incompetent, or fly in a plane piloted by a neophyte, nor have my kids taught by people who do not know what they are doing.  But the saying I quoted is not

You had better learn to do something well

I am not speaking, here, of things which could damage other people, nor of one's profession.

What of hobbies?

How should we measure the worth of a hobby?

Should it not be in terms of amount of enjoyment?

If you get pleasure out of banging on a piano, then, as long as you don't force people to listen, why should it matter if you are good or not, or even if you are improving?  Further, I think people would likely improve more if they let themselves enjoy themselves.  They would probably learn more.  They would be less embarrassed, because they wouldn't be striving for something they could not get.  

Many people give up in frustration at various tasks.  Why do they get so frustrated? Is it not because they are comparing themselves to others?  

Look, instead, at a little kid learning to walk.  They don't give up! And they don't get embarrassed.  They don't sneak off to practice alone.  Nor are they after 'mastery'.  They just want to walk!  

Similarly with learning to talk.  Spend some time with toddlers and you quickly realize that they do not care about making mistakes, they just keep talking!  Contrast this with how adults learn a foreign language, and  are terrified to use it for fear of appearing foolish!  Does this make sense?  If you hear a foreigner mangling English, do you think that person a fool? Of course not! You think he or she is learning English.  So, why do we have such trepidation?  Because we don't speak like a native, because we haven't reached mastery, because we don't do it well.

But it is entirely worthwhile to learn a foreign language badly. If you are traveling to, say, Italy, it is worth knowing how to say "Where is the bathroom?" and "Can you find someone who speaks English?" and so on, even if you never learn more.  It is also worthwhile getting to the point where you can sort-of communicate.  Even if you never reach fluency.  

Much is like this.  So, do some things badly.  Enjoy yourself.  It beats the heck out of doing nothing.  Specialization is for insects.

Originally posted to plf515 on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 07:52 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip jar (20+ / 0-)

    tips, comments, recommends

    and if you know of some good tags for this, let me know.

  •  I think you're misinterpreting the saying. (5+ / 0-)

    My understanding of it is, "if you're going to do something, put some effort into doing it as well as you can". But that's too much to say. I think the meaning hinges on the phrase, "doing well"... "well" compared to what? Compared to Michael Jordan? I don't think that's what it means-- I think it means compared to doing something half-heartedly.

    "People like Carl [Sagan] and Dawkins are more serious about God than people who just go through the motions. They are real seekers."--Ann Druyan

    by ubertar on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 07:52:13 AM PDT

    •  I don't know (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tryptamine, Runs With Scissors

      think about how much emphasis we place on being 'better'.  "Who's the best player?"

      Who gets chosen first when kids are forming teams?
      Who won the game?

      Isn't it worth doing things half-heartedly?  What if you enjoy that?  By putting only half your heart into it, you don't risk your whole heart being broken.

      Now up: The cult of mastery Friday: WAYR? History, politics

      by plf515 on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 07:54:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  If the goal is to have fun, (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        tryptamine, plf515

        then you should whole-heartedly pursue that goal. If your goal is to have fun, but instead you're concerned solely about winning, you're not whole-heartedly pursuing your goal. In which case, the activity may not be worth doing.

        "People like Carl [Sagan] and Dawkins are more serious about God than people who just go through the motions. They are real seekers."--Ann Druyan

        by ubertar on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:01:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  But I think (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          tryptamine, ubertar

          having fun, and letting ourselves go and make mistakes, leads to more mastery, rather than less.

          Now up: The cult of mastery Friday: WAYR? History, politics

          by plf515 on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:03:29 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Agreed. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            tryptamine, plf515

            That's what I'm saying-- you have to figure out what your goal actually is, and pursue it whole-heartedly. If your goal is have fun, and your means to that end is playing basketball, you're going to end up a better basketball player. If your goal is simply to be the best basketball player ever, and you don't have the natural ability to reach that goal, it's time to reassess that goal. It's much better to strive to enjoy oneself and get good at something in the process as a side benefit, IMO, than to try to be the best at something for its own sake.

            "People like Carl [Sagan] and Dawkins are more serious about God than people who just go through the motions. They are real seekers."--Ann Druyan

            by ubertar on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:09:06 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Oh OK (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              tryptamine, ubertar

              As so often, we reach consensus through dialogue.
              If we were Republicans, we'd be calling each other names at this point :-)

              Now up: The cult of mastery Friday: WAYR? History, politics

              by plf515 on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:13:39 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I knew from the beginning (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                tryptamine, plf515

                I agreed with your sentiment, but I still think you're taking the saying out of context. I don't think it means or implies, "if you can't do something as well as other people can, you have no business doing it", but I'll concede that some misguided people do use it that way.

                "People like Carl [Sagan] and Dawkins are more serious about God than people who just go through the motions. They are real seekers."--Ann Druyan

                by ubertar on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:18:04 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

        •  I should clarify: (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          tryptamine, plf515

          "that goal" in the first sentence refers to the goal of having fun.

          "People like Carl [Sagan] and Dawkins are more serious about God than people who just go through the motions. They are real seekers."--Ann Druyan

          by ubertar on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:10:37 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  who are "we" in that post? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        vcmvo2, plf515

        If the people around you are that competitive, maybe you need a change of scenery. :)
        For me, I strive to, as much as possible, only do things I enjoy. Because I enjoy the things I do, I keep learning and growing and improving at them. Doing something well doesn't have to mean perfectionism. It just means (in my view, anyway) putting in enough effort to improve over time.

        "People like Carl [Sagan] and Dawkins are more serious about God than people who just go through the motions. They are real seekers."--Ann Druyan

        by ubertar on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:30:40 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I agree with ubertar. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tryptamine, plf515

      our society has too many lazy, willfully incompetent people who would like nothing better than to read

      Anything worth doing is worth doing badly

      and consider that justification for doing a piss-poor job.
      That assumes they have the energy to read, of course.

      •  I'm not sure (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        tryptamine, Winnie, plf515

        that's what I meant by what I said.

        "People like Carl [Sagan] and Dawkins are more serious about God than people who just go through the motions. They are real seekers."--Ann Druyan

        by ubertar on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:03:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  sorry, I didn't mean to do that to you. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          plf515, ubertar

          what I meant was that I agree with your statement.  Then I went on my own rant.

          •  I'm not sure (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Winnie, plf515

            it isn't part of what I meant by what I said, either. :)

            If people are willfully incompetent, and do a crappy job, I'd be willing to bet 9 times out of 10, they hate what they do, or at best tolerate it to earn a living or some other, external reason. If you don't enjoy doing something, you should, if possible, try to stop doing it, because you will most likely do it poorly, which can have consequences for others as well. I wonder how many people in the Bush administration hate their jobs?

            "People like Carl [Sagan] and Dawkins are more serious about God than people who just go through the motions. They are real seekers."--Ann Druyan

            by ubertar on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:50:06 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  as a matter of fact... (6+ / 0-)

    my oldest child was extreeeemely self-conscious from birth.  would fake sleep if people were fussing over her, even as an infant, and practiced things like talking and walking in her crib, when she thought i couldnt hear/see her.

    most people, however, are more like your examples.  and i do think the saying implies that if you cant do something well, it might not be worth your doing.

    and, like you, i disagree.  

    and the best example i can think of is dancing!!  people's eyes probably burn when i dance...but i do it anyway because it makes me feel good.  

    "It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare"~Mark Twain

    by 73rd virgin on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 07:58:53 AM PDT

    •  thanks (3+ / 0-)

      I have heard kids practicing talking while alone, but I had not heard of one who was self-conscious about it so young as your daughter...  yet more evidence that people vary.

      Dancing is a great example.

      Now up: The cult of mastery Friday: WAYR? History, politics

      by plf515 on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:01:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I have a cousin who was like this... (4+ / 0-)

      As far as anyone knows, he did not speak until the age of three.  The first words my aunt reports hearing him say were one day when he came down to breakfast and said, "Good morning, mother, I'd like some oatmeal."  He would not let anyone hear him practicing until he knew it was "good enough."  Same held true when he took piano lessons.  He wouldn't practice if he thought anyone could hear him -- but give him an empty house, and he'd suddenly come out with note-perfect piano pieces.

      Poor guy, how stressful it must have been to live that way!  (I don't know how he copes with his perfectionist tendencies nowadays...)

      "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It's not." -- Dr. Seuss

      by AnnieJo on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:12:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  a very sad irony (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JPete, plf515, AnnieJo

        my daughter was managing ok through age 16.  she, sadly, was in a car accident, suffered a traumatic brain injury, and is now almost constantly subject to the kind of attention she was always so uncomfortable with (spastic quadriplegia leaves her unable to escape it).  she has even reverted to faking sleep sometimes, and even does it as a joke with the nurses when she's at the hospital.

        and she's non-verbal now, but some nights i hear her making little noises in her bed like she's trying to talk.  heartbreaking.  

        im glad, though, that someone else knew a child like this, because people rarely believe me when i tell them.

        "It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare"~Mark Twain

        by 73rd virgin on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 09:38:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I do a number of things with mediocrity,,,, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, plf515, 73rd virgin

    I enjoy playing tennis but the toss on my serve is inconsistent, I like taking pictures but I have vast amounts to learn, I ride my bike but I go awful slow, I hike at a snail's pace, some days I struggle at my job and I am not the best of the best. I agree, I don't care, if i am foolish I have lots of company. I have failed more than I have had triumphs and my psyche seems to be relatively intact.

  •  Excellent Message (5+ / 0-)

    Teaching adults really can be a problem for the very reason you mention - fear of making a mistake.

    I have seen it teaching the guitar and college level philosophy. And I have had little success simply saying 'relax, make a mistake'. It really can be a problem. It's like with adults there is so much self-esteem on the line that its easier to quit than to fail, even temporarily.

    The irony is that mistakes are so important in the learning process. I learned the computer (now I get paid as a programmer) in my early 40's. A huge portion of what I know now about computers came via mistakes which I learned were rarely fatal.

    •  When I was learning Hebrew (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tgs1952, tryptamine, undercovercalico

      I forced myself to talk until I had made 5 mistakes each day.

      I would wander around, talking to myself if I had to!

      Now up: The cult of mastery Friday: WAYR? History, politics

      by plf515 on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:11:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  playing guitar well (6+ / 0-)

      means being willing to make mistakes. I don't think the saying is invalidated. (And if you make a mistake live, make it three times, so people think you meant it... :) )

      "People like Carl [Sagan] and Dawkins are more serious about God than people who just go through the motions. They are real seekers."--Ann Druyan

      by ubertar on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:15:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  My mentor used to say (5+ / 0-)

        If you're going to make a mistake, for cryin' out loud, stand up and make it loudly!

        "I hate Illinois Nazis" - Jake

        by dfb1968 on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:16:49 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Teaching Instrumental Music for Contests and (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        plf515, ubertar

        performing, one of the things I do early and often is teach mistake-handling and recovery.

        As in sailing instruction and many things, including computer instruction, often people are better than we guess at learning to do things right. But what they're typically bad at is handling breakdowns. It's why kayak and sailing instruction often begins with tipping and capsize sessions. When people are shown that they can pick themselves up, and how to get out of trouble even when people are staring at them, they become much more confident and aggressive self-teachers.

        On the other hand I also teach technical perfection. Americans in particular (in ethnic music I get to deal with immigrants too) seem to have a cultural shyness about learning any lesson 100%. Maybe it's fear of failure if they put themselves all the way on the line.

        What I usually see next week is a demonstration that they learned the principle of what I taught, but execution wise, rarely more than 80% until I've taught them how to have the confidence to think they really can do it right, and then help them learn how to evaluate and debug those niggling 20% problems.

        It typically takes me 3-4 lessons in the beginning to establish this concept and feel for 100.00% mastery of a new skill. Once done, it's very infectious, and in combination with mistake-recovery, tends to make students very comfortable and self reliant and fairly quick, efficient learners.

        We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

        by Gooserock on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:49:23 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  You're actually quite right (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, plf515, 73rd virgin

    I used to be a good golfer but hated every bad shot.  I was a terrible, reeeeeally terrible, tennis player but loved every minute of it.

    "I hate Illinois Nazis" - Jake

    by dfb1968 on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:11:01 AM PDT

  •  I like the anti-perfectionist concept, but... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, plf515

    it seems to me that when you frame it with "worth doing badly" it almost makes it sound like one should TRY to do badly (since the original maxim implies that you should TRY to do well.)

    How about:

    Anything worth doing is... worth doing!

    "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It's not." -- Dr. Seuss

    by AnnieJo on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:17:47 AM PDT

  •  Thomas Edison invented the light bulb... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, plf515, ubertar, AnnieJo

    on his 10,000th try.  He was quoted as saying "I didn't fail 9,999 times.  I successfully discovered 9,999 ways that don't work."

    Or perhaps it wasn't Thomas Edison, or it wasn't the light bulb, or it wasn't 10,000 times.  My memory of this quote is somewhat vague.  If I'm wrong, sue me ;-)

    "Some men see things as they are and say 'Why?' I dream things that never were and say, 'I need to quit drinking!'" - Greasy Grant

    by Greasy Grant on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:24:37 AM PDT

  •  I will be practicing my poor skills (3+ / 0-)

    at kayaking later today.  At it 3 years and I still don't have a dependable roll!  

  •  It Does Really Depend on the Activity (5+ / 0-)

    And what you're doing with it.

    As a Celtic musician I'm blessed and plagued with bagpipers pretty frequently. Most the ones we hear in  the U.S. seem to be your laid-back what-the-hell types, which would be just fine except that they're also pretty aggressive self promoters for public performance. It's possible because the market is mainly for very short presentations, 1-2 tunes at weddings, maybe half a dozen for parades, maybe a 15 minute show at stage events. It's part of the reason "Amazing Grace" became so popular with them, because so much of the traditional music is out of reach if you don't work at it and frankly start in your teens.

    The good players are usually off on the contest circuit which I occasionally encounter when I go to certain of the Irish or Scottish festivals. My bagpiper friend had to throw in with a theatrical agent and buy an expensive military guardsman's uniform to compete with the half-dozen-tune-repertoire crowd for weddings and funerals.

    Now on the other side, I was a sailing instructor for many years, and that's an activity that's tailor made for a do-your-own-thing learning style. Riding in boats with hundreds of first-timers over the years, I could see that everybody's pattern of perception is somewhat individual, and since there aren't any high-level skills as with instrumental music, it's most comfortable and productive for sailing to minimize the formalities and maximize the childlike random exploratory style of learning.

    Childhood is an especially appropriate metaphor for learning sailing because the environment is so disorienting, lacking all the right angles of modern terrestrial life, everything important (wind and current) being invisible, and the difficulty finding the floor sometimes with bobbing up & down. Landlubbers usually have very limited capacity for cerebral teaching until their bodies and subconsciouses have gotten oriented & comfortable in the environment.

    I was a very competitive racer in my youth but as a teacher I decided to completely abandon the colorful traditional tech jargon for the introductory lessons. I walk them through how everything works, then we push them out into an area that's buoyed off such that they sail the simplest cross-wind direction back  & forth, letting the brainstems and limbic systems get oriented.

    Incidentally for group learning in these kinds of activities, you'll graduate a much higher percentage of self-reliant participants if in the beginning you ask who in each bunch wants to try it first --and then force them to go 2nd while the timid ones go first.

    This is also a good way to get more equal outcomes with women in coed learning, because socially they'll tend to hold back while the men tend to push ahead.

    For some reason, timid learners seem to take on a frame judging themselves both by their own problem solving and also comparing to the previous examples. If they go first there is no previous example and they seem to form their own frame, and once that's done it's empowering and they don't seem to abandon it. The bold learners though probably have a lifetime of greater self reliant thinking and they don't seem to burden themselves as much by excess comparisons to what others have done before them.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:39:20 AM PDT

  •  Hey plf (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JPete, plf515, 73rd virgin, jessical

    I do MANY things badly! Thank you for some validation!

    Speaking of which (sorta) Todays WE the People Wednesday is going to be on Faxing Nadler....any tips or developments I should know about?

    •  Did you talk to conchita? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JPete, buhdydharma, 73rd virgin

      I believe she met with Nadler on Monday....

      I have also heard that the reason he is not moving on impeachment is that he thinks it will hurt the Democrats in '08.  I think he is wrong.  I tried to find polls for opinion about Congress and how it changed during Nixon's semi-impeachment, but I couldn't find any.  Might also be cool to find out how many people have not heard of their congressperson - as evidence that most people do not pay attention to politics, and then argue that impeachment hearings would spark interest and galvanize the public.

      If you e-mail me with the text, I'd be glad to take a look (and almost certainly add my name)

      Now up: The cult of mastery Friday: WAYR? History, politics

      by plf515 on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 08:48:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  No need for review (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JPete, plf515, 73rd virgin

        I will just be highlighting his role on the committee and askin folks to fax him with a polite request to support 333

        It seems like he is getting some nice pressure and a few hundred (thousand) faxes may help him realize how Democrats really feel!

        Thanks for the update.....I should have it up in a couple of hours.

  •  i agree (5+ / 0-)

    i understand some of the criticism about using the word "badly" here, but i think it's spot on.

    in fact, i was paralyzed by perfectionism for a long, long time until i came to understand that the world wouldn't end if i did something badly.

    this realization has left me free to actually caulk the bathtub, even though i end up with little bits of it where i don't want it.

    it's left me free to do things like give papers, even though i freeze when in front of people and in fact almost burst into tears the first time i ever did it!

    it's left me free to garden! make quiches in the microwave! bake bread made out of buckwheat blueberries tart cherries and nuts! change the oil in my car!! put up hummingbird feeders everywhere even though i did it how you're not supposed to do it! (note: thus: The Hummingbird Thunderdome and my greedy acquisition of all hummingbirds in a 5 mile radius, much to my beighbors' dismay).

    etc. etc.!

    iow, there are innumerable things i would never have done, had i not realized it was okay to do something badly or wrong, as long as it wasn't neurosurgery that i was attempting!

  •  A Perverse Pleasure (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, plf515, 73rd virgin

    Quite a thrill actually to step off and allow non-perfection.  A bit of Edgar Allen Poe's Imp.

  •  I'm wondering what's the bottom (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    plf515, jessical

    line, as it were.  And I wonder how many of us who have struggled with issues about success and doing well are making connections between success and acceptability as a person.

    Anyway, what seems to me tragic really is when one gets the idea that one's acceptability as a person depends on meeting external criteria of success.  What can make it even worse is if you have teachers or parents who actually don't understand how to achieve the success.  In groups of (relatively) high achievers there are often peole who feel totally fraudulent and I wonder if part of what is happening is that they have a really screwy idea of what is needed to achieve success, along with the realization that they aren't doing it that way.  (There's a touch of autobiography here, but thank god I've seen those issues to a resolution I am happy to live with.)

    On a happier note:  Picking up on a point from a discussion with plf in another diary:  I think it can be fun to try to do something fairly well.  So, for example, bowling (as plf knows) is something I'm just starting again after a 40 year hiatus, and I'm enjoying a lot trying to understand why I'm doing pretty badly.  Today I finally figured out why the ball kept spinning, and it felt terrific, but since I had in the meantime been compensating for the spinning, my score didn't just bounce up.  Really fun.  I don't think it will continue being all that much fun, however, if I continue to do as badly as I did in some games today.  (We're talking a number of 0-0 frames; who wants to keep aiming at ten pins if you can't hit any.)
     

    "False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil." Plato

    by JPete on Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 10:46:33 AM PDT

  •  fascinating... (0+ / 0-)

    ...diary premise, albeit tres late to the party.

    I'd agree completely, that anything doing is worth doing badly -- that there are things one can discover no other way than by doing, and if one fears to do badly, or expects one's learning curve to be smooth or reveal great talent, one is a fool (and worse, paralyzed and unable to learn).

    But...I think mastery is quite real.  I've done certain kinds of software development, in certain kinds of engineering contexts, for 20 odd years, and there are choices I make that are informed by something like mastery.  I see similar things in writers, painters, makers of chairs, and mechanical engineers.  I look for it in my teachers, because even though I'm a dumpkof at the start of anything new, I want to emulate and learn from people who have evolved a complex balance of awareness and education, who know what they do badly and well, who know how to judge what is most important in a thing, and to focus their execution to a kind of excellence.

    I do think our culture confuses mastery -- which as John Gardener said, builds over time like weather, and involves being ruthlessly honest about one's own ignorance -- with aptitude or related talents.  

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