“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” - G.K. Chesterton
I’m by no means a perfectionist, and yet when I first heard this quote, it offended my sensibilities. I grew up a messy middle child and still would typically rather move on to the next exciting thing than finish up something well. That being confessed, I am driven enough by a sense of accomplishment and by others’ evaluation of me that I do at least try to do most things well. My successful strategy thus far has been to choose things to invest in that I can expect to excel at, and just to not take on the sorts of tasks or challenges that might showcase my insufficiencies.
When I decided recently that it was time to start sharing my words with the world on a more regular basis, I’ve struggled with a host of self-doubting objections —
“There’s no way I can stick with this. This is just another good intention. Why even start?”
“You know there are so many people who do this so so well. Isn’t it just silly to try to be one more voice when there are such powerful and eloquent voices already out there?”
“What if I can’t handle the criticism of people who disagree with me? What if I lose friends or ministry partners as a result of honestly expressing my heart and opinions?”
But ... just as strongly as I’ve known so many other things in my life, I know that this is my season to begin to craft and share words. And since I made the promise publicly a couple weeks ago, I have struggled like a kid with my toes curled around the edge of a diving board to just take the leap. Then, yesterday, this quote came back to graciously haunt me …
“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”
Now, like you me you are probably wondering what exactly Chesterton meant —- certainly he knew as well as we did that there are plenty of things that we most certainly should NOT do badly. Heart surgery for one. Driving tractor trailers for another. Things could get very silly or very scary very quickly if we applied this rule across the board.
No, he did not at all mean to apply this to all spheres of life. What he was doing was esteeming the amateur — pointing out that not only do we not need professionals for all things, but in fact there are many things that are better left to amateurs. He uses the examples of wiping one’s own nose or writing one’s own love letters. Some things are better done by ourselves. The authenticity that comes from someone doing something guided by their passion, not because they are a paid professional, lends great value to many pursuits.
I was really relieved to know of two areas in particular that Chesterton thought were worth doing “badly” —- parenting and writing.
He knew that the love that a parent has for a child outweighs the value of the most brilliant professional child development specialist. Parenting is meant to be done out of love, not for payment or reward, so it is worth the risk of letting amateurs be in charge of loving and cultivating the lives of their own littles, even though they may do it quite badly compared to the myriad of experts. (I say it all the time to expectant parents in my birth classes … “YOU get to be the expert on your baby!”)
And writing — Chesterton speaking in defense of hobbies and amateurs, in fact called himself a “duller scribe” and a “general duffer*,” noting that of course writers work to get attention, and hope to have an effect on their readers. But, they may instead just get criticism. But for those who must write, writing is one of those things that is worth doing badly.
If he considered himself dull scribe and an old duffer, I’m not sure what I hope to accomplish. But since he has released me, I’m uncurling my toes from the diving board and taking the leap.
If blogging is worth doing, it is worth doing badly. With typos. (I promise, there will be typos.) With not-yet-matured ideas and honesty about my doubts. With sharing too much sometimes, and pretty-ing things up too much other times. With perspectives that will make students of theology shake their head at me. With the occasional know-it-all tone that will embarrass me to read in later years.
With all these risks, with all the potential for doing this badly, I move forward and send this first blog out to the world. So watch out, because with more belly-flops than swan-dives, I’m gonna make a SPLASH!
*Duffer- “An incompetent or stupid person, especially an elderly one.”