We have heard the phrase “If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing well.” It is meant to motivate us to do our best in all things. The sentiment is absolutely true, but I want to look at the flip side of that coin.
G.K. Chesterton said “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing poorly.” Yup. Do it poorly.
Now I want to distinguish right off the bat what sort of thing it is that we are talking about. Obviously there are pursuits that require skill to be worth doing. Not everything is worth doing poorly. For instance, auto repair is not a thing worth doing poorly.
So what am I talking about?
The first situation in which this phrase guides us is those moments when we are stuck in what is known as “analysis paralysis.” That’s when we can’t act because we are thinking about every possible outcome and the consequences that each decision might entail. We can’t act because you are too concerned with having every scrap of information and knowing every possible detail.
The simple fact is: we can never know everything. Sometimes we simply have to acknowledge that fact and move forwards anyways. Make the best decision possible and remember that if the goal is worth it, what we are doing is worth it. Even if the choice isn’t the “best.”
The second thing is a bit more far reaching. There are many things that we do that are very worth doing, even if we aren’t technically the most skilled. For instance, as leaders it is important that we show gratitude. Showing gratitude is something that is inherently worth doing. But let’s say that I’m not terribly gifted with words. Should I hire a professional writer to write thank you cards or a speechwriter to write me a moving speech to deliver? Of course not. Even if I bumble a bit and I do poorly my gratitude is worth sharing. It is more valuable coming from me poorly than from another more skilled.
There are many examples of this sort of thing. Do parents always have time to read up on every bit of parenting literature before approaching their child? No. Should the child then be given to a professional since they are more versed in parenting theory and techniques? No. This is not excuse to slack off or for any sort of negligence; it’s a simple statement that a parent trying their loving best is worth it, even if the result isn’t perfect.
To take it to a professional arena, how many times have you ever been faced with an opportunity to lead and shied away because you tell yourself something along the lines of, “I’m probably not the best one for this,” or “I don’t really know what I’m doing.” Then no one steps up and the opportunity is lost. Leading is worth doing, even if you do it poorly. Better that you step up and do your best than that nothing happen at all. Taking that chance is the only way to grow and it sets a great example of overcoming fear.
I want to leave you with a final key to understanding this phrase. It hinges on a proper understanding of failure. If your mission is to avoid failure at all costs you will never be able to accept that things worth doing are worth doing poorly. As a friend told me the other day– a fail is simply a First Attempt In Learning.
Leaders understand that mistakes are the stepping stones to success, so doing something, even the wrong thing, is infinitely better than doing nothing. When you do something you have a chance to learn and grow and succeed. If you do nothing you get nothing.
So next time you want to turn from something because you are afraid it won’t be good enough ask yourself: “Is it something worth doing?” If the answer is yes, go for it anyways and give it your best. You’ll learn, grow, and I suspect be surprised by how well things go more often than not.