Pretty good pencil drawing of a cat

You have to be willing to be bad at it

Earlier this year my 6 year-old came home from school with some pretty AMAZING cat pictures. She showed them off, and we all oohed and aahed over her talent.

The next day, however, I found another picture from a few days earlier, her first attempt at a cat. It was languishing crumpled at the bottom of her bag, but this picture made me even happier: it was a CRAPPY cat picture.

The first attempt – how are those limbs, tail, and head even attached?

Why was I so pleased about the rejected picture? Well, while this little girl didn’t inherit her artistic skills from me, but she did inherit perfectionism. She often used to screw up her pictures in frustration at how poorly they had turned out (they were fine), she would rage at her inability to get it “right” the first time, and give up.

Perfectionism looks at that first attempt, labels it rubbish, and tells you to quit. But with these cats, she didn’t, she tried again, she worked at it, and she improved. This is progress.

Perfectionism doesn’t just rubbish your first attempts with its unrealistic expectations, even worse it can shame you into refusing to even give something a try. It whispers something like, “You probably won’t be good at it, and if you can’t do it well straight off, you’d better not do it at all”.

We end up doing what Jon Acuff calls “pre-quitting”. We quit before we even started! I’ve just finished reading Acuff’s excellent book Finish – I’d highly recommend it, it’ll give you new ways to tackle perfectionism from the beginning of a goal, through the middle stages, and right to the finish.

I’ve pre-quit a whole lot of things in my life, things I never even tried out of fear that I wouldn’t have been good at them. And quite probably, I wouldn’t have been good at them, but so what? Now this bit I know to be true, even it doesn’t always feel that way:

being good at things isn’t the purpose or measure of life.

All my daughters have inherited a fair portion of perfectionism. And I know that in some ways it will help, they’ll work hard to achieve goals and to grow their talents as best they can. But I also know that it could trip them up, it could have them quitting before they start, or quitting when their first attempt isn’t “good enough”.

So when I can across this quote, I framed a picture of it outside their bedroom door (you can download a free pretty printable here).

You have to be willing to be bad at it in order to get good at it

Mary Going, In the Company of Women

It’s too early yet to know how well they’re taking it in, but the crappy cat picture gives me hope.


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