Last December, I wrote about my experience getting back into playing the piano after a few years of not playing. In that post, I wrote that making mistakes was inevitable—at the time, I had fallen into a comical habitat of assuming every note was a flat or sharp, making all of my chords a little wonky. Despite the possibility of making rather loud mistakes while learning new songs, I had realized an important lesson: “If you give yourself the opportunity to ‘fail’ then you also give yourself the chance to succeed.”
I’ve been thinking about this recently because, as my second year of university has ended I’ve had more time for hobbies. Writing, of course, is a hobby; as is playing the piano. What’s interesting about these hobbies, though, is that I’m relatively good at them—I have lots of experience writing, so I’m confident in my skills, and I have training in piano which I can fall back on.
But my hobbies, I realized, shouldn’t only be things that I am “good” at, or things which I have education or training in. In December, I wrote that I felt like I was giving myself freedom to fail in starting to play the piano again. But, really, it’s not like I was preparing to play at Carnegie Hall, or even to post videos of me playing on YouTube. In that context, “failure” would only mean messing up a song, and starting over. Not only were the stakes low, but I was pretty much set up for some level of success, if only in my personal feelings of satisfaction with my hobby.
It feels strangely liberating to do something that I know I’m bad at.
I think it’s important to have hobbies that I am not good at, though. This is why I’ve taken up watercolour painting. Beyond the visual art classes I took in elementary school—which were a mandatory part of the curriculum—I have no training or education in art. I’m not naturally talented at it, either—both of my parents are artists, and I don’t feel bad at all when I say that their talents in visual arts are not in my gene pool.
I might not be great at it, but watercolour painting is fun. I love trying to recreate the images I see on Pinterest. Sometimes my recreations look nothing like the original image online, but I know that it’s okay that they aren’t identical. Like playing the piano, watercolour painting is a low stakes hobby, in that my “failure” to create “amazing art” (which I put in quotation marks because I know enough about art to know that it’s incredibly subjective) doesn’t have serious consequences for my life.
But all the same, it feels strangely liberating to do something that I know I’m bad at. When I paint, my fulfillment doesn’t come from striving for perfection, or even creating a finished product of which I’m particularly proud. It comes from the journey of creating the piece, and from the feeling of contentment that comes from realizing that I don’t have to frame my creation if I don’t like it, because it’s just another page in a sketchbook that I had fun painting.
There’s a quote I love from John Steinbeck which says, “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” For the purposes of this blog post, I’d amend that quote a bit: “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can try without being held back by the fear of not achieving perfection.” If I let a fear of not being perfect prevent me from doing art, then I wouldn’t have the fun experiences that I’ve had while painting.
Pursuing a hobby that I’m “bad” at reminds me that it’s okay to take creative risks in other parts of my life too, like my education and my career. I know that I won’t be perfect at everything I do—and I have a sketchbook of watercolour pieces to prove it. What I do know, though, is that I will gain happiness from trying new things, even if I’m not great at them. And that’s not only humbling, but to me it’s inspirational, as well.