Do It Badly

Really bad flower doodles
Another thing I do badly: doodle.

I was playing the piano today, and as I fumbled around on the keys as I do almost every day, I was reminded of a Toastmasters speech I gave a few years ago.

Do It Badly

How many times in our lives have we been told practice makes perfect, good enough isn’t good enough, practice doesn’t make perfect-perfect practice makes perfect, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. How often does a magazine cover catch our eye that extols that we bake the perfect cake? Make this the best holiday ever! Find the perfect gift. Drive the perfect car? In our search for perfection we may not realize:

Perfect doesn’t exist.

In fact, doing our best may not always be what it is cracked up to be. Maybe striving for the best might take some of the spontaneity, silliness, and fun out of life. Wouldn’t life be dull without those things? Wouldn’t life dish up more disappointment, dissatisfaction, and disillusion if we always demanded and expected perfection?

This idea really hit home to me one day while I was in a kindergarten class. The children were set to work drawing a picture for Thanksgiving on a piece of construction paper using crayons. One by one they were to take their picture to the teacher and show it to her for her approval. One little boy took his picture up and presented it to the teacher. No, she said shaking her head. This isn’t your best work. I want you to take that back to your seat and try again.

I was surprised. This was a five year old with a crayon? How do you know if that is his best work? Are there standards for five-year-old crayon art that I haven’t learned? How could this child improve on his art that would satisfy the teacher? I began to worry.

I started to think about things I haven’t put my best effort into. If any of you heard me play the piano you’d know exactly what I was talking about. I play piano, and I really play very badly. I’ve taken about 3 lessons, so I’m pretty much self-taught. I don’t practice, I just play. I mainly play really slow romantic songs because I read music really slowly and my fingers take a while to find the keys. My playing is so bad that one time a 6-year old I was looking after commented while I was playing: Do you know any songs?

But even my bad piano playing brings me a lot of joy. I love piano music and I love playing the piano so much I am happy to be able to play it badly. Someday I’ll take lessons and perhaps have time for that perfect practice. But for now, I am happy to occasionally hit the right notes and make something that sounds like music –if only to myself.

Another thing I do badly is watercolour painting. Watercolours lend themselves to imperfection. The single act of adding the wrong color to a wet piece of paper can lead to masterpiece or disaster. With watercolour you just don’t know. I’ve even taken a watercolour course. And I am still bad at it. What the course did was open the avenues for new imperfection. I can now do watercolours using several different techniques badly.

My water color pictures will never hang on the wall, in fact, they’re probably only suitable for lining a boot tray. Most look a bit muddy anyway. But I like to watch as the paint mixes and blends on the page. I like using the different types of brushes I have, just to see what I can do with them. I like making the paper wet and then when I’m done taking the hair dryer to it and watching it dry. I don’t care about the perfect results. I don’t care that no one else likes my painting. It’s perfectly alright that I do it all badly. Because it’s fun!

So how many times do we fret because the icing on the cake turned out oddly? Or you made your spouse breakfast and the scrambled eggs turned out like little bits of styrofoam/ Or the house isn’t perfectly cleaned, or the car windshield has nose prints on it right after we polished it—because we live in and use those things? They exist for our enjoyment, we don’t exist for their maintenance. So what if the beans don’t get planted in a perfectly straight row? Mother nature never worries about straight rows! So what if we do something badly, or imperfect? Especially if it brings you joy, if it’s fun, if it takes you away from your routine. If it brings a smile to your face than it’s worth doing badly.