How To Do Something Badly

gk chesterton Oct 22, 2022

October 22, 2022

Read time: 3 minutes

This week's edition of the 3-Minute Business Coach is all about not letting perfection become the enemy of good.

There are some things that we need to be perfect in, but often those are not the most important things in life.

So, let's dig in.

“One thing I like about you is that you are really good at doing things badly.”

That phrase came out of my friend's mouth, and the words were aimed at someone he deeply respected.

He meant it as a compliment, and the recipient accepted it.

It was a play on a G. K. Chesterton quote, "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." he said it in his excellent and timely book, What's Wrong with the World, which was written in 1910.

It is not an excuse for poor efforts, but it might be an excuse for less-than-perfect results.

Perfection is best, but only if you can achieve perfection. 

The reality is very few times are we perfect, and if that is our standard, we are better off not starting. 

Attaining 83% of the goal is better than never starting. That is the same for anything important.

There are things like playing Cello, colonizing Mars, or being a brain surgeon, which we do not want a person to do unless he does them well. 

But those are not the most important things in life. 

When it comes to writing one's own love letters and blowing one's own nose, "these things we want a man to do for himself, even if he does them badly." This argues Chesterton is "the democratic faith: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves – the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state."

The business you want to start? There is no such thing as a perfect business. Start it anyway.

That marketing plan you are waiting to execute? Test messaging, test imagery, test pricing. You must put out imperfections to know where they reside. 

The apology you need to make? The relationship will be better even if you fumble through their words as long as they are genuine and kind.

The book you want to write? There is a reason that editors exist; to take your good enough manuscript and polish it before it is consumed. 

The conversation that you need to have with your kids? Better to try and fail than to remain a mystery to them. 

We use perfection as an excuse more than we use it as a goal.

What do you have inside of you that you are hiding from us?

What is in there that can make a difference in my life?

Why would you rob me of that gift that you can give freely?

This is the other side of perfection. It is the side of withholding when you can give, which is a worse tragedy than failing. 

So when I heard my friend say, "you are really good at doing things badly," he was sincerely thanking our friend for trying. For refusing to let perfection be an excuse to not start

I have spent over 5,000 hours coaching leaders, and a common trait among the most successful leaders is that they are okay with doing something badly. So much so that many look forward to failure because there will be a lesson in the pain.

When you integrate that pain into your life, you become better. 

Do that enough times, and you become transformed. 

What is something today that you need to do badly?


Take a walk or meditate, but find someplace where you will not be distracted by technology or people. Then ask yourself these questions:

  1. What have I stolen from my community because I refuse to do it badly?
  2. What is that thing that is inside of you that you need to let out for us to enjoy?
  3. What is the first step you can take toward doing something badly?

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