Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. -Chesterton

"Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." - G.K. Chesterton

So this is pretty much my mantra right now. I never thought of myself as a perfectionist until recently, when I realized that the reason I didn’t do certain things was because I didn’t think I’d be able to do them perfectly. Why didn’t I try to play sports in school? Because I was sure I’d be laughed at because I was so uncoordinated. Why don’t I write more? Because I’m afraid the words won’t come out right. Why do I spend more time worrying over how awful a piece of artwork will be than actually creating it? Why do I ignore the dirty bathtub? Because I don’t have hours to scrub the whole room within an inch of its life. Why don’t I just sit down more often and enjoy playing with my son or watching a movie with my husband? Because I feel like I have to be doing SOMETHING productive every waking moment. (And even sleeping seems like a waste of time…)

Amazingly, when I give myself permission to do something poorly as long as I DO IT, I end up doing better and enjoying the process more. For instance, I agonized over each assignment in my college Typography class, and yet I never seemed to produce anything decent. I hated our class critiques, because as everyone else pinned their assignment to the board, it became clear to me that what I had created with much weeping and gnashing of teeth just… um… SUCKED.

About two-third of the way through the semester, we received a “concrete poetry” assignment. Basically, our professor wanted us to turn weather reports into typographical designs. There were several days between the handing out of the assignment and the day it was due, but I must have had something big going on at my church-job that week, because I remember thinking to myself, “Okay, I have two hours until I have to leave the computer lab and I won’t be back here til next week. I just have to do this.”

And I did. I pounded out a design that I thought was, frankly, simplistic and boring, but it met my prof’s requirements and it was DONE and I could leave and not worry about it.

Emily King - Concrete Poetry
Click to see a high-res version. And remember, Baby Jesus hates people who steal pictures off the internet.

When critique day came, I remember flushing with shock when my teacher stopped in front of my piece and said, “Now, THIS. This is just a wonderful use of scale and pattern and value. This person got what I was asking for. This person probably had me for 2D design.” (Actually I didn’t; this guy was infamously cruel during critiques and I had avoided him as long as I could in my time at the university.) “Whose is this?”

As I timidly raised my hand, my teacher did a double-take. “Well, Emily. I guess you’ve been holding out on me.”

If only I could tap into that joyous attitude of detachment, which somehow frees the very best of my creative self, every day! That’s why I was so excited when I first read this quote by Chesterton. Some folks may say it’s an excuse for sloppy work, but I disagree. It’s an exhortation to try and fail, because failing is okay. After all, doing something badly is better than doing nothing at all.


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