Why You Should Do Something Badly Today!

Why You Should Do Something Badly Today!

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Confidence

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” – G. K. Chesterton

Last week I was overcome with paralyzing guilt after slightly miscooking a sausage sandwich.

Don’t worry—the sandwich was delicious. But even as I was putting it together, a critical internal voice was opining that the pan had been too hot, the butter not melty enough, the onions insufficiently caramelized…

I could have brought a Perfect Sandwich into this world. But I was making an imperfect one instead. 

And I felt bad. (At least, until I ate it. Like I said, it was delicious.)

I don’t know about you, but I often hold myself back out of fear of imperfection—despite the evidence of my eyes that the world is crammed with imperfect art, products, situations, and even people. (And yes, I certainly include myself in the category of “imperfect people”—along with pretty much everyone else.)

So today I want to celebrate the art of Doing Stuff Badly.

A bad deal is often better than no deal

I always have an idea in my head of the final, “complete” outcome of whatever I’m trying. The prizewinning novel. The sparklingly clean kitchen. The target marathon time.

But actually, none of these perfect outcomes need to be achieved. For all of these activities, simply trying at all would be an improvement.

A ten minute run is better than no run. An imperfect short story which exists is better than a perfect one which doesn’t. A cobbled-together plate of leftovers is better than no dinner. A half-cleaned kitchen is better than a completely messy one.

…need I go on? If you’re struggling to get started on something that feels big and unachievable, ask yourself if even the smallest possible version would be better than nothing. In a choice between a perfect reality which doesn’t exist, and an imperfect one which does, there’s only ever one winner.

Being bad is the first step to becoming good

In Star Wars, the path to the dark side is famously a one-way slippery slope. But in real life, we often have to be bad to become good. (At least, when it comes to skills—this is not applicable to moral badness, which we’ll have to save for another discussion.)

Very recently, I took up swing dancing… by which I mean I have attended a single class. 

My feet spent most of the class doing their own thing; even maintaining a very simple 1-2-3-4 pattern required constant concentration. As soon as I attempted to do literally anything else, my feet gave up and began behaving randomly, which necessitated many embarrassed apologies to each new partner that came my way.

But this is okay. Nobody is born knowing how to swing dance.

Like almost all skills, dancing requires willingness to be bad at it first. You can’t become a master piano player without being a terrible one first.

Of course, some things do require expertise. Obviously, brain surgery, plumbing, medicine, flying planes and building skyscrapers are all activities which require an extremely high standard before we even begin. Which is why people studying these kinds of skills have special ways to train and practices to adhere to while they’re learning.

When our actions have real-world consequences, we need to be careful.

But as long as nothing is on the line, let go of the outcome, and go for it.

What can you do badly today?

Is there an activity you feel drawn to, or a project you’ve been putting off, or even just a day-to-day chore that you never seem to get done?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Would doing it a bit be better than not doing it at all? If so, go do it—a bit!
  • Are you willing to be bad at it now, if it means being better at it later?

The only truly important question is “is anything really on the line if you do it imperfectly? Really?!” 

If you answer yes, then your hesitation is well-justified. If not… don’t let imperfection hold you back. There’s a reason Chesterton never said “if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth ruminating over endlessly until you just give up because you’ll never do it perfectly.”

Personally, I’ve never done anything perfectly in my life. Why start now?! 

Let’s do something badly today… and then, maybe, do it better tomorrow.

Your Turn

What could you do badly today that would help you out tomorrow? Has a bad job ever turned into a good job for you? Share with the community in the comments!

neil_2017_2Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at enhughesiasm.com, his mental health blog, and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.

14 Comments

  1. Kate says:

    An ongoing journey learning to paint clouds. I picked up my brushes for the first time in months yesterday!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      That’s awesome, Kate! Art is one of those things I’m incredibly bad at, and you’ve reminded me I could take this advice and actually draw something badly and it’s not the end of the world :p hope your clouds look better today than yesterday :D

  2. Anna says:

    Neil, thank you for this reminder. I hope it is ok to share a quote on an Instagram from this blog (you will be credited), please let me know if not as I would like to share this idea with my audience.
    Anna

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Hi Anna! I’m sure if you credit this post and link back to it then Emilie won’t mind – I’m really happy you liked it! Do share the insta post with me too so I can give it a like :)

  3. Megan Chan says:

    This article is so on point! At the beginning of the year I decided to write a book about my path of Fs (Farm, Foreigner, Fashion, Finance, Freedom) and principles to “simply be you”. Since English is my second language and writing is not one of my strengths, it was (still is) very challenging for me to find the right words to express what I wanted to convey. But that didn’t stop me from writing. After four short months of committing myself to finishing this book, my book “Still Be You” – Ten Principles To Finding Your Purpose is now available on Amazon. In fact, one of the principles in my book is about this topic of “not being perfect”.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      That’s amazing, Megan! Really happy to hear this resonated, and I think the more resources out there to free us from the burden of perfectionism, the better. And your English is excellent, so thank you for sharing your thoughts with us :)

  4. Maryske says:

    Neil, I love you! (Well, considering that I barely know you personally, let’s say it applies at the very least to your columns :-D)

    Case in point of your, “Would doing it a *bit* be better than not doing it at all?” – my house cleaning. I severely dislike cleaning. But earlier this summer, I sort of cleaned the bathroom by going around with the shower, showering everything down. Or rather: about half of the room. Then I tired of it.

    So yeah, it certainly looks better than it did before. But perfect??? No way… I still wouldn’t dare show it to my landlord… LOL

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Haha, you’ve absolutely nailed my approach to cleaning, there :p It’s always “this is better than before” and VERY VERY rarely “this is perfect :p”

      And thank you, I’m delighted you like the columns so much :D hope life is treating you extremely well :)

  5. Elsa says:

    “What can I do badly today?” – This is (literally) going on top of my to do list for tomorrow! And the next day, and all days to follow. So many possibilities, I can’t wait :-D

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Yay, I love when you can find a practical action that will free you up in future! Let us know how this experiment goes, and I hope whatever you do badly today turns out awesome :D

  6. Catherine says:

    This is me everyday! I’m actively trying to get rid of this mentality that I need to do it right. I’m trying to post more because I have too many drafts and things I would like to say in other ways or photograph and in this month I’m making an effort to post them anyway, even if that photo is not perfect, even if I might need to come back to it and change the post to complement it. Sometimes I get so caught up in this that I don’t do anything. It’s bad.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      For sure! And even having written this article I struggle with perfectionism all the time! An imperfect photo is better than no photo (and definitely better than a ‘perfect’ photo which could never really exist!)

  7. Caroline says:

    Thank you, Neil, for yet another great applicable article! As another perfectionist, I’m certainly no stranger to annoying perfection-seeking paralysis – whether it’s regarding tackling clutter or tackling (or even safely not tackling) perennial family drama with certain people that will never change… if any of that makes sense ha! I definitely need to prioritize doing something badly more often; so thanks again!

  8. Martina says:

    Thank you, Neil, for so often putting my own struggles in words! Your and my inner critic would be best mates for sure
    For many years I wanted to be a writer but always held back because I thought “Who wants to read that?” Finally I did the first step over ten years ago self-publishing a small booklet with poems. Well, besides my family nobody bought it, but at least I tried.
    The feeling of wanting to write still survived and 1.5 years ago I started my own blog writing about anything that is on my mind (from my struggles with depression, cancer to buying a new handbag).
    Now I am facing the big one, writing a novel. I have some ideas but I never dared to even start because I worry that I might get 20 pages done and find there is no more in me. Or in other words that I am rubbish at it.
    But you are absolutely right if I never start and try I will never know. Maybe I am absolutely rubbish and find myself with a terrible short story or I might be good and get my story on paper.
    Thanks for your inspiration!

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