The Value of Doing Something Badly

Fast Company published an article about how now is a great time to make mediocre art, and it reminded me of one of my favorite essays, The Perfect Game by G.K. Chesterton.  I encourage you to take few minutes and read the entire essay; but to summarize, Chesterton is playing a game of croquet with a friend and is getting beaten badly.  Chesterton’s friend asks him why he bothers even playing croquet since he is so bad at it.  Here is his response:

It is only we who play badly who love the Game itself. You love glory; you love applause; you love the earthquake voice of victory; you do not love croquet. You do not love croquet until you love being beaten at croquet. It is we the bunglers who adore the occupation in the abstract. It is we to whom it is art for art’s sake. If we may see the face of Croquet herself (if I may so express myself) we are content to see her face turned upon us in anger. Our play is called amateurish; and we wear proudly the name of amateur, for amateurs is but the French for Lovers.

Chesterton is saying that his friend only likes to play croquet because he is good at it.  But his friend does not love croquet.  It is really Chesterton who loves the game, because he continues to play even though he is so bad at it.

For me, this idea hits home.  I’ve been playing pick-up soccer for some time now, and I am very, very bad at it. I started playing soccer late in life at about 30 compared to most people who I play with who have been playing since they were kids. Yet, I have stuck with it over the years, in spite of jeers both internal and external because I love playing soccer.  

As time has gone on, I know I have gotten better at playing soccer; but that’s not really the point. I do it and keep going because I enjoy it, I do it for the love of playing the game.

This idea can really be applied to anything – art, music, learning.  If you really enjoy something, you should continue to do it for the love of it. As Austin Kleon says in his book Keep Going, having a daily practice insulates you from success, failure, and the chaos of the outside world. It’s good for mental health.

You don’t have to be a “professional” artist or creator. It’s fine to be an amateur. It means that you really love what you’re doing.