“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”
How many activities do you think about doing? How many things would you love to try but stop yourself because you don’t know how to begin? Do you avoid fun or adventurous things because of the pressure to do them well? If so, you might just benefit from a tactic I use quite regularly: Allowing imperfection.
Lessons from Imperfect Camping
My husband and I love camping. Even more than we love camping, we love the idea of camping. Two summers ago, some friends gave us all of their camping equipment. Tents, stoves, tools – the works. All we had to do was get sleeping bags and a mattress pad. We talked and talked about how great it was to get all this free stuff.
Then – we didn’t go camping.
Both of us hike a lot. Also, we live in one of those outdoors-y, rafting, climbing, “my extreme outdoor sport can kick your extreme outdoor sport’s ass” regions. So, I think we were both intimidated by the whole thing. It felt like pressure.
So, at the beginning of this summer, I blocked off a weekend. I made reservations at a campground. I called it the “Imperfect Camping Weekend.” It made my husband laugh. He was on-board instantly.
Imperfect Camping meant that we could go to a campground, even though the extreme outdoors-y types in my head were saying, “What a wimp! You should be in the wilderness!” Imperfect Camping meant that we could leave our site and go get a lighter if we forgot one. Imperfect Camping meant that we got along much better because we didn’t have to do it all perfectly. It meant that we ordered out for pizza on the second afternoon because we were hungry after our hike and didn’t have the energy to light the grill so early in the day. Imperfect Camping meant that we actually went camping, rather than just talking about it.
In other words, it was more important to do it than to do it well. Lots of things are like this.
I meet young musicians who obsess about getting their songs perfect before they’ll allow themselves to perform at an open-mic night. I tell them that open-mic night is where you’re supposed to suck. We’re all lousy at open-mic nights. That’s the whole point! Same thing with Toastmasters. Same thing with presenting your first free workshop. You have to start somewhere!
One of the best reasons to allow imperfection is when you’ve got a case of the “used-to-be’s.” The used-to-be’s are the stories we tell ourselves: I used to be so much better at this. I used to be so much thinner than I am now. I used to write every single day and it got so easy! And on and on we go – all the while never starting the very thing that might move us beyond our stuck-ness. The “used-to-be’s” are a trap.
I have been so busy with road trips and new experiences this year that I got off schedule with my work-outs. So this week, I began Imperfect Work-Outs. This meant that I stayed on the elliptical only about 15 minutes. It meant that I only did one set of reps with my weights. It meant that the committee in my head was shouting, “You used to be so much better at this. You used to go 45 whole minutes on that elliptical!” (And on and on.) I continue my Imperfect Workouts while these voices shout – but at least I’m doing them.
This applies to blogging, too. Every blogger has written posts that get lots of attention. Like this one. Or this one. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that every post has to be that way. This trap can make it impossible to write the next post. You might find that you’re contorting yourself so that you’re writing for the attention – and not for the writing. So, practicing “Imperfect Blogging” keeps me writing posts that are not always trying to answers life’s great questions. (Like this post!)
Why Does it Work?
Allowing imperfection a form of setting intent. When you begin a project and lower the bar – or better yet, remove it altogether – then you’re free to create in the moment without any grade or standard. Ironically, this allows for such freedom and joy that you might end up doing a great job. (Or at least having a great time.)
When your demand for perfection is there from the start, then your attention isn’t on the activity itself, or in the joy of being with your partner. Your attention is drained in the perpetual “how’m I doing?” analysis.
For instance, in the camping example, if I had pushed us to “GO CAMPING,” then my standards for what camping is “supposed to look like” might have taken over. Rather than enjoying camping – I might have been thinking, “We’re not doing so good. Look at those people at the campsite next to us! They’re so prepared! And I forgot to pack the lighter! And we had to waste all that time running to the store to get one!” This would probably lead me to nit-pick my husband – and make us both stressed. Then we’d be even more resistant to going camping again – which is something we both love to do, even though we’re not great at it!
An Imperfect List of Things You Can Do Imperfectly
- Imperfect Vacations (Vacations can be pressure. Especially with all the magazine pictures of couples at spas looking so peaceful and at ease in their hot tubs. If you’re nervous about planning vacations, allow for “Imperfect Vacations.”)
- Imperfect Writing
- Imperfect Dinner Parties (This is great if you’ve never hosted a dinner party – and the pressure to be Martha Stewart keeps you from having people over. Start with your kindest friends. Let them know in advance that you’re hosting an “Imperfect Dinner Party.” They’ll probably love you for it!)
- Imperfect Meditation
- Imperfect Yoga
- Imperfect Sex
- Imperfect Hiking (This works if you only have a few hours and you have to find a simple trail which might not be as astounding as another trail you did a month ago.)
- Imperfect Scrapbooking
- Imperfect Cooking
- Imperfect Bowling (One of my personal favorites.)
There are, of course, some things that might not be good for allowing imperfection. Brain surgery, piloting a commercial jet, and skydiving come to mind.