Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Half-Assed

Yesterday novelist and retired high school English teacher Peter Ferry was in Ashland. I hosted a book chat with him at my house for about fifteen people and then he taught a fiction writing workshop on campus at SOU. Baby Leone cooed and gurgled through the first event and slept soundly through the second. I wore her all day in a front pack. She was very patient, even though I spilled falafel on her head while she was sleeping.

But, as I suspected, I was not nearly as in tune with her elimination needs. I did catch a poop in the chamber pot during the book chat. I went into the bedroom and held her over her little pot and kept the door ajar so I wouldn’t miss anything. But the rest of the day she did what most American babies do and peed in her diaper.

This morning has been much drier. She’s been signaling when she needs to pee and then going happily in her chamber pot as soon as I take her diaper off.

A lot of us, myself included, tend to think in absolutes. We say things like, “I use cloth diapers,” or “I am not a runner,” and treat these statements as immutable facts. This absolutism keeps us from doing things outside of our comfort zone. If I’m not a runner then I can’t go for a jog, because I’m not a runner. If I use cloth diapers then I can’t teach my baby a cue to pee in the potty because I use cloth diapers.

See what I mean?

But what if it’s okay to be more fluid? What if you use disposable diapers MOST OF THE TIME but still buy a dozen cloth diapers and use them SOME OF THE TIME? What if instead of thinking of yourself as “not a runner,” you put the baby in a running stroller and go do three 12-minute miles, even if you only do so once or twice a month?

One of my favorite books is Rachel Naomi Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal. In it she tells the story of a woman battling a chronic illness that leaves her exhausted all the time. Because of her sickness the woman almost never leaves the house.

She feels too unwell to be part of the energetic, healthy world.

But then one day she realizes that there is no law that states she has to do things all the way and that there is nobody but herself forcing her to be like everyone else. So she tries going out. She goes to a show, really enjoys it, gets tired, and leaves at intermission.

The realization that she does not have to do things 100 percent frees her up to enjoy her life as it is to the best of her capabilities. Her new motto: Anything worth doing is worth doing half-assed.

I tend to be an overly critical perfectionist. And I often feel bad about what I am doing wrong. After I vacuum I notice the bits of fluff I didn’t get out of the corners. When I exercise for half an hour, I feel badly because I didn’t go for 45 minutes.

The more I think about it with my rational mind, the stupider I realize this is. It’s also so ridiculously self-centered to dwell on the negative. So I am hereby adopting the half-assed motto (or trying to anyway).

When I allow myself the freedom to try and to strive–and even to fail–life becomes a whole lot easier.

What do you think? Would a half-assed approach to life help liberate you in some way?

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on Wednesday, January 20th, 2010 at 4:27 pm and is filed under home birth, infant pottying.
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10 thoughts on “Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Half-Assed”

  1. Amen, Jennifer! What I went through last summer – getting sick a million times, etc – hammered this concept home for me! I went from being a perfectionist-time-keeping-maniac to someone who felt she could barely keep up with anything! Yet, guess what? Now that I’m more or less on the other side of that, I’m enjoying life (and also my work!) even more than ever! So, hurray for “the half-assed motto”. It definitely ended up being liberating for THIS type A personality.

  2. I love this. So often we don’t give ourselves permission to do just what we can, instead berating ourselves for not doing it all. From here on out, “Do it Half-Assed” is going to be my motto! 😉

  3. Right on. “Absolute” is merely illusion, anyway. . . (and, as you said, just another excuse to beat ourselves up).

    I think I feel a cross-stitch sampler coming on. “Anything worth doing. . .” Thanks for the words of wisdom, Jennifer.

  4. Good for you! I think it is very sensible and the perfect way to approach life when you’re trying to do lots of things at once.

  5. There’s a great book, Forget Perfect. After I read it, I started initiating tasks with self-permission to not finish them or do them perfectly. So freeing. Then, I am not paralyzed to the point of not starting. My mother, a perfectionist, ironed the underwear. Really. I do little exercises. i.e. I mess up my sock drawer instead of lining them up by color. Life is so much more enjoyable when I am not setting myself up for failure. There is no perfect.

  6. I love the message, but I don’t like the word “half-assed”. That implies a negative, and I think Jennifer’s intention is a very positive one. Could we come up with another word? How about “good enough”? The older I get (sixty five) the more I realize how many things I used to think were important just aren’t.

  7. Love this, Jennifer. I, too, tend toward perfectionism and in reading this it make me realize how trying to be perfect holds you back – and actually sometimes prevents you – from even trying. It takes a conscious effort to give this up, but I think with practice it can be accomplished. I’m going to think of this post every time I get down on myself for not doing the best job – sometimes good enough is good enough.
    .-= sheryl´s last blog ..Scuba TV =-.

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