In Defense of Sucking at Things

April 4, 2022

If you've spent any amount of time near me, I'm sure it quickly becomes apparent that I am a person who likes to do things. I like to do a lot of things! Life is short and I like novelty.

Recently, I added cross stitching to my pile of hobbies. I picked this up for a number of reasons. First, I was bored, as usual. Second, it's easy to learn, easy to do while I watch 2-hour video essays about Wii Sports on Youtube, and at the end of it I have something tangible. Third, and most importantly, it gives me an alternative creative outlet for when drawing gets too frustrating.

Yes, frustrating. Here's a fun fact: I don't try that hard at drawing. I don't mean this in the "art isn't hard for me" way, nor do I mean it in the "I don't care much about art" way; what I mean is that when drawing gets too hard and I start getting frustrated, I just stop. I don't sit there and try to make the piece work anyway. If I don't feel like drawing, I don't draw.

"But wait," some of the diehard artists in the (imaginary) audience may say, "If you just quit when things get hard, you're not improving!"

Correct! I don't give even a singular shit about improving at drawing! I'm fine with this. I might even be proud of it, for reasons I'll get into shortly.

I am not claiming I suck at drawing - I think that would be pretty insulting to both myself and anyone reading this. I think I'm just fine at drawing. Not the greatest, but not bad, either. But how can I be not bad at drawing while not striving for improvement? Here's the thing: if you do anything for long enough, you end up getting better at it by virtue of you doing it a lot. I've been drawing for virtually my entire life, and I started drawing digitally in 2009. It would be more surprising if I hadn't gotten even a little bit better over that length of time.

Here's the thing about the previous thing: I sincerely believe that I would not have lasted nearly this long if I had been concerned about getting good at art. My reason for drawing has stayed constant since I started: I draw things that I like because it's fun. If I did force myself to sit there and make things work for the sake of some nebulous idea of progress, or if I finished a piece only to pick it apart to the point where I hate it, that wouldn't be fun at all! I would have lasted a year at most with that kind of thinking.

This isn't to say that I don't like to put effort into things; when I'm in the mood to do it, I'll put a lot of time into finishing something. Still, I also don't subscribe to the mindset that you only deserve to be proud of things if you put everything you had into them. There are many, many days where all I feel like doing is a napkin doodle, or maybe a colored sketch if I'm feeling particularly saucy. But ultimately, if I made something, I'm happy. Art is great! You're taking ideas from your brain and chucking them into reality! I think that's worth celebrating regardless of what the end product looks like.

I've been prattling about art because it's the hobby I've kept around for the longest, but the idea of being okay with sucking extends to virtually any skill. I like to do a lot of things, and I also suck (or am mediocre at best) at a lot of things. And who cares? I do all this to feel good, not to be good.

But what of the people who want to be good at their hobbies? I'm certainly not discounting the validity of making an active effort to improve at something. I have a great amount of respect for people who dedicate themselves to studying a skill and are willing to cross the mental hurdles that I'm not willing to. If you're one of these people, I still think you have something to gain from finding contentment in sucking. Improvement requires you to suck; if you're constantly wanting to improve, you'll always suck to some degree. You can either make yourself miserable by beating yourself up for making mistakes, or you can be proud of yourself for finishing something because you're getting better at your craft with every attempt you make.

The idea that all your skills need to be advanced, ideally even "marketable," is extremely pervasive in our culture. Oh, it's great that you want to do stuff, but you have to want to be the best at it. In a perfect world, this mentality would be crushed into a fine powder like goldfish crackers under a shoe. In the real world, I doubt it'll go away anytime soon, but the least you can do is suck at something. Do it as a rebuttal to all the people out there who insist there's no value in not being (or striving to be) the best at everything you do. You're doing something for yourself, and it makes you happy - there's plenty of value in that.