The power of doing things badly

Submission from Castlegar News bi-weekly columnist

The other day I heard someone say, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” That’s crazy, I thought. That runs counter to everything I was told as I was growing up.

When I examined my life’s experiences, however, I decided perhaps there was something profound about the statement. Clearly, we don’t want people to set out to do things badly, but not many of us ordinary citizens can be at the top of the game.

I realized that some activities are extremely worthwhile, so much so that it doesn’t matter if we do them badly. I, for example, am a slow cross-country skier. But the fact that I’m the slowest of any skier to get to the Ben Shaw Cabin and back should not deter me from going. Look at the calories I burn while doing so; look at the benefit to my heart and lungs; and look at the improvement in muscular fitness.

I know many people who have cherished desires to be artists, musicians, or writers but don’t do much because of a fear of failure. One friend can’t draw a figure if he traced it, another can’t manage more than a few chords on a guitar, and one buddy only writes a poem or two for his family. And yet, while they are doing these activities — though they would be viewed as failures in the larger world — they are extremely happy.

Possible failure is no reason to stop pursuing something you’re passionate about even though you’re no good. Take my golf abilities, for instance. I’m a middle-of-the-pack ordinary golfer, some would say a duffer. But when I’m on the fairway, I’m usually walking and expending energy. The ache in my left leg during the winter disappears by mid-summer because of my 18-hole walks. And my blood pressure slides back toward normal.

Quite often when I golf, I fail. I certainly have no aspirations to be a Tiger Woods or even as good as my friend Russ Hearne. But I’ve improved a lot since I began as the worst golfer to ever hit a ball in Castlegar. In fact, last year I had three birdies in a row during one of my so-so rounds. And on another of my bad days, I had a hole-in-one on Castlegar’s #12.

So if I worried about not doing well in relation to good golfers, I would never have any highlights to cheer about. I’d be sitting at home because I was afraid to go out and look bad—in fact “fail” as the world determines it.

Paddling a canoe can be tremendous fun. A good paddle on a pristine lake is good for the body and its rhythms. Paddling with a friend can be a delightful experience — a oneness with the elements. My only problem is that I don’t paddle well. I keep switching sides in order to keep the canoe going in the direction intended. My arm muscles always tire early, and my legs often cramp up. My more gifted paddle partners simply put up with me.

But to quit because I’m bad at the activity would mean giving up enjoying the outdoors from the green-edge of lakes to the silver passage down rivers. Nothing could keep me from failing to paddle well to get to these places. My failure at paddling has taken me to campsites along the Bowron Lakes chain, the Red Deer River, and the Milk River badlands.

There is no reason to let anything get in the way of these delights. We failures may not be winning trophies or smiling at the top of the heap, but we are doing things badly for ourselves.