Image for article, titled Why It's Good To Be Bad At Things You Enjoy, According To Kurt Vonnegut

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There is a mysterious quote, the origins of which are largely unknown, but which is often attributed to the late literary icon Kurt Vonnegut. This is the largely untested legend: When Vonnegut was a teenager, something important became clear to him. He was 15 years old and was working on an archaeological dig when archaeologists inquired about what he liked to do besides digging up fossils.

Vonnegut responded with a variety of extracurricular activities – violin, choir, theater, but no sport – that impressed the archaeologist. The problem with this, the teenager noted, was that he wasn’t good at either of them. Then the archaeologist said a few sentences that changed how Vonnegut would ultimately approach life.

So the encounter went according to the Reminder of the author years later:

Then he said something that I will never forget and that absolutely blew me away because no one had ever said something like this to me: “I don’t think it’s important to be good at things. I think you’ve had all of these wonderful experiences with different skills and all of these teach you things and make you an interesting person no matter how well you master them.

Whether this story is ultimately a myth or not, it still has a distinctly Vonnegut-esque aftertaste, as the The author expressed a similar opinion later in life. And it should apply to anyone engaged in activities beyond personal comfort. The idea that it is not bad – and possibly even a good thing – not to excel at something can help shatter the idea that any pursuit must be a means to success.

Why do we have the constant need to achieve something?

It is a simple question that deserves careful consideration, but the simple answer is that accomplishments, whether personal, career, athletic, or otherwise, are revered and celebrated in the mass media. LinkedIn is crammed with users trying to do something splash with their career milestones; Athletes are enthusiastic alongside Rockstar CEOs; Magazine spreads tout tthe lightning-fast success stories the corporate leader of tomorrow.

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This type of high achievement worship can affect the way normal people become interested in hobbies. There are something of an epidemic of perfectionism in the United States, which means that the casual golfer doesn’t just hit the course for a leisurely game – he learns, trains and longs to perfect his technique to become the best he can be.

Writer Tim Wu put this 2018 edition in a nutshell, noting that many people are scared of taking up hobbies, largely because they view the stumbling blocks of learning as failures. He wrote for The New York Times:

But there’s a deeper reason I think so many people don’t have hobbies: we’re scared of being bad at them. Or rather, we are intimidated by the expectation – which is itself a hallmark of our intensely public, performative age – that we actually need to be experienced in our free time.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can refer to Vonnegut, or at least refer to his teenage enlightenment, if you are discouraged about not being absolutely brilliant at a particular hobby.

Why it is good to be bad at things

It is definitely a merit in striving; It’s good to feel like you’ve achieved something and the hard work you put in is paying off in the form of skill or even mastery.

Per Vonnegut’s story However, shedding the expectation of mastery can be incredibly liberating. Creating for the sake of creation, writing for the sake of writing, and trying for the sake of experimentation are all invaluable to the spiritual mill.

Practicing an art, no matter how good or bad it is, for heaven’s sake is a way to grow your soul. Singing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem, even a lousy poem, to a friend. Do it as best you can. You will get a tremendous reward. You will have created something.

For anyone hesitant to start something new or who raises their hands in frustration because they can’t paint or knit, or play a pentatonic scale on the guitar, it’s important to understand that something is good at that What matters to one is to be mediocre Over. Why? Because it shows your commitment to enjoyment – and an understanding that you deserve the flexibility to go easy on yourself.

So instead of despairing of your inability to master a craft, think about why you were looking for it in the first place. The motivation to pursue a new hobby is curiosity and the opportunity to gain joy. And if you really enjoy something, it makes no difference to be good at it.