If it’s Worth Doing, it’s Worth Doing Poorly

This is another commandment intended to help me sidestep perfection. I paraphrased it from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication. I would love to include the original quote here, but I can’t seem to find my copy of the book. It’s possible I loaned it to someone. I should probably own duplicate copies of my favorite books if I’m going to loan them out. The gist was basically that, when we’re trying to improve how we’re doing something, trying to learn something new or practice a newly acquired skill, we should try not to hold ourselves back because of a fear of not performing as well as we’d like. In the context of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), it’s acknowledging that what Rosenberg is introducing is a very different manner of communicating than what most of us are accustomed to. As a result, it feels uncomfortable or fake, and it’s easy to worry that we’ll mess it up and say the wrong thing, especially when we’re guessing at other people’s emotions, which is the cornerstone of NVC. Rosenberg reassures us that, since the point of using NVC is to form a connection with another person through empathy, even if we guess wrong or say the “wrong” thing, the intent is still there, and we’re still closer to connection than we were before we tried.

This commandment is similar to the commandment to Risk Looking Foolish, but to me, the “Worth” portion is a subtle but important difference between the two. Risk Looking Foolish is mostly just to encourage me to take a chance and not worry about what others think of me. My actions may or may not actually be foolish, but my concern is with others’ perceptions of me, which I can’t control anyway. “If it’s Worth Doing…” is about not just being perceived as foolish but maybe actually not succeeding at all or even messing things up. The implication is that if the thing one is trying is important enough, it’s better to try and fail than to not try at all.

I definitely try to apply this to interpersonal interactions, which is where I’m least comfortable. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time with my foot in my mouth. I tend to be judgmental and opinionated, and I have many memories of interactions that make me cringe because of my unskillful and untactful communication skills. I’ve worked hard to improve on these skills, which is part of why my foot isn’t in my mouth as often these days. The other reason, though, is that I’m less likely to talk to people now than I used to be. Being a stay-at-home mom makes it easier to avoid conversations than it was when I was working full-time at a large corporation. But, like with my avoidance of speaking foreign languages with native speakers, I miss out on relationships and experiences by avoiding conversations.

Now, when I go to talk with someone I don’t know, or with someone I do know about a sensitive topic, I spend a few moments (or a few days) psyching myself up and reminding myself of the guidelines for effective, empathetic communication before I make the phone call or talk with the person face-to-face. This takes a lot of effort, though, so I’m glad to have the freedom to take a break and be a hermit again if I don’t have the energy to deal with talking with people.

One area I’ve applied this commandment more confidently is with parenting. I can’t avoid my children for long, so I get to practice the intensive parenting methods I’ve chosen whether I’m up for it or not. I worry that I’m messing it up and messing the kids up, but I also know that it would be worse for them if I didn’t try at all than if I tried and did a poor job of it. It’s the effort that makes the difference, not necessarily the successful achievement of the intended outcome.

What are some of the things that you find are worth doing poorly?

Coming tomorrow: Happiness Project Kickoff! I will reveal August’s resolutions as well as the focus areas for each month.


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  6. CJ · August 1, 2010

    That’s a good point. I read that 10,000 hours number in Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, but I hadn’t connected it to this resolution. Along a similar line, I remember reading that people who are trying to fight addiction to substances “fail” on average three times before they kick their habit for good. I remember taking that point to heart while quitting smoking – the idea that the “failures” were necessary steps on the way to success. They don’t seem much like failures in that context.


  7. Lea · July 31, 2010

    Hey girl – I read recently that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in something. That suggests the first 5,000 or so are spent making lots of mistakes! From the time I got my first job as a geologist, until I considered myself to be an ‘expert,’ I would say that’s about right. The first two years all I did was fumble around in the dark, the 3rd and 4th year I was better, and after 5 years I felt like maybe, maybe I knew sort of what I was doing… after 10 years, I’m just bored to death with groundwater!


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