Personally, my being good at something is very closely tied to my sense of self worth. I’d rather it weren’t. I’m working at it not being. But for the time being, it pretty much is. I’m writing a novel. I’m attempting to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I am woefully behind, and I’m stuck. I was sailing along quite well. I developed the characters with ease. It was fun. It felt like play. Then they needed to do something. I needed to write scenes, and I don’t know how to write scenes. I’ve never done it before, so I stopped.
Then, I did what I do when I feel unsure about something, I started researching, reading, trying to figure out how to do it. I was trying to figure out how to do it right! How to do it well! How to be good at it! How to produce something that was respectable! I got stressed – It wasn’t so much fun anymore.
I haven’t written fiction since I was 10 years old. My brother recently reminded me I’d made up a whole town full of people when I was little, written about them extensively and drew it all out in detail. He’s right. I had; but that was a long time ago, and I don’t remember how.
I brought up my “stuckness,” over burgers with my family. My truly extraordinary husband (he really is a marvel) had some especially great advice (As he does nearly every hour of every day, and whenever I need more.) “throw open the doors and windows, set you free” kind of advice. He (my amazing husband) said that writing my book wasn’t about it being good. That he didn’t expect it to be good, that it probably wouldn’t be, but that wasn’t what the exercise was about. Writing the book was about and for the experience. (My daughter kindly threw in that he clearly hadn’t read it, and that was just his uneducated opinion, because it was in fact very good! – I love her- she brings me joy and comfort.)
On further exploration, I realized he was talking about experience as in practice, as in 10,000 hours. As in you’ve got to practice at something and put in the many hours to excel. I agree. We aren’t often very good at things when we start out. We get better as we go on and the more we do it the more we will improve. And likely we will find there is more enjoyment to be had in the experience as we get better at whatever it is we are doing. Taking up a new sport or instrument is a great example of this, and I tell my kids this all the time.
But for me, the freedom was in the idea that I didn’t ever have to be good. That being good at it wasn’t what is was about, or needed to be about. That I could just do something, anything, purely for the experience of doing it, good or not. I was enjoying writing. It was fun. It was challenging and I liked it. I got in the zone when I participated. I didn’t have to be good at it. I could suck at it. What I produced could stink to the high heavens. There was no judge, there was no jury, internally or externally.
Then, I extrapolated once more. Maybe this was true about life in general. All of life could be there to be experienced, and enjoyed, whether we were good at it or not.