Anything worth doing is worth doing badly

I wish I could remember where I first heard this.

I was raised with the values that ‘anything worth doing is worth doing well.’ I’m grateful for that. Still, I increasingly think the opposite is just as true.

It’s a gentle reminder that we need to walk before we can run. Particularly for all of us who take pride in doing our best.

The deeper we get into our lives and the more specialised our skills become – from being a skilled baker, to a spreadsheet whiz, to someone who can always find the right words to comfort a troubled friend – the more we take for granted being good at things.

But those honed and polished grooves can turn into ruts.

It’s almost impossible to do something well when doing it for the first time – and this becomes even more true the further we stretch ourselves outside of our comfort zone.

It’s okay to do things badly, to trip up, to stumble, to dawdle, to spill, to daydream, to make a mistake. In fact, it’s part of the process. Particularly if we are reaching for rich lives full of discovery and experimentation.

If we can’t tolerate doing things badly, how will we learn? Doing something badly is the first step on the path that culminates in expertise.

But let us also remember, not everything is worth doing well. We have finite energy and time. Do the socks have to be perfectly folded? Does the email have to be perfectly worded? Does the child need to be perfectly clean? Sometimes, ‘done’ is enough.

And if the constant pursuit of ‘excellence’ keeps you from taking pleasure in your hobbies, your work, or your life, how much is that excellence actually serving you?

It might be time to let things slip a little now and then.

So today, celebrate the value of doing something badly. Have a laugh, give a shrug, and let the fruits of your labour exist unapologetically in all their imperfect glory.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

In the wee small hours

Last night, you cried in the middle of the night. For the first time in many, many weeks, I was well enough to murmur to your father to go back to sleep. I snuck into your darkened room on my own.

I was a bit unsteady on my legs. You stood in your travel cot screaming; outraged by the dark, your aloneness, or your own hunger.

I felt slow and clumsy, but my arms were strong enough.

As we settled into the chair, I discovered I no longer knew quite how to hold you. In the weeks had passed since I took a turn on the night shift, your body had grown and lengthened. The cradle of my arms that you used to nestle into had become small and awkward.

Together, we improvised. I held you on my lap. You leaned back against my chest, your head resting in the hollow next to my shoulder. It felt both new and deeply familiar. I marvelled at the way your legs now stretched out beyond my knees. When had they grown so long? I curled myself around your small body to smell your hair and leave almost imperceptible kisses on your crown. Quietness descended as you sucked down your cool milk on a hot night.

It felt like a lifetime since I had been able to take you in these wee small hours.

I remember when these were our secret times. No one could feed you but me. You slept curved into the crook of my body – the bed zealously stripped of any blankets or pillows that could prove a danger. You got your warmth from me.

In those long hard months, I had never been more exhausted. Sleeping did not come easily to you. Some nights, you woke every hour to feed. The love was strong, but everything was clouded by an omnipresent haze of tiredness.

You kept waking, it’s just that I couldn’t come when you called.

Now, it is your father’s arms that take you almost every night. He is the one wearing the cloak of fatigue, who gets up without complaint and drops back into bed like a log. Sometimes, I watch him, desperate to help but limited by the demands of my struggling body. Other times, I am too lost in my own lonely dreams to even know what is happening.

Night after night, the wakeups string together to become a long, tiring routine.

But given just one night… it was like being given one perfect pearl instead of the whole tangled necklace. I was so tired. But I cherished every moment:

the way your body tensed and relaxed as you drifted in the shallow waters of sleep –

the fierce hold of your grip on the cup –

the smooth coolness of your skin in the night air –

the way your sleeping body curled in on itself like a snail in its shell, as I settled you back into your bed.

These are the moments that can only truly become precious in their scarcity; we would give anything to get back once we cannot have them any more. The memories that parents of grown children speak of with a wistful look in their eye. I have been given a little glimpse into their reality.

I almost couldn’t bear to put you down and leave the room.

Your father had the grace to laugh when I told him. (He does understand. But he also needs more sleep.)

More than anything, I was grateful that you still felt like mine. You still calmed at the sound of my voice. Your body instantly relaxed in my arms. In spite of the fact that I have been scarce of late – and that you have been so well-loved and cared for by others – that I still feel like your Mommy when we are together late at night.

I don’t know when I will be next well enough to soothe you at night. My days are unpredictable; my nights even more so. I hope there will be many more, and soon.

And I know there will come a period in the future when I am well again, when the disruption of being woken in the night carries far more weight than the preciousness of that time together.

But for now, I would give anything to bottle every moment.

You are a wonder, my baby.

Those wee small hours feel like magic.

Photo by Gabriele Motter on Unsplash