Life Philosophy

Small Steps Are Just Fine

One of the things I’ve noticed about “being a grown-up” is that there isn’t much appreciation for amateurs, in either sense of the word. As adults, we’re expected to do something perfectly–and ideally, for commercial gain–or not at all. This is a general rule, obviously, as there are realms where this is clearly not the case (e.g. cooking), and there will always be examples that prove the rule. Nonetheless, the impression remains of a world that does not welcome exuberant but messy newbies.

This seems like a waste of potential to me. After all, how are you supposed to improve at something if you don’t practice? And why not just learn something for the sake of it? Research has shown that mastering new skills leads to life satisfaction. And apart from that, sometimes it’s just FUN to do something and not be good at it. There are so many realms where we “have to” be perfect. Sometimes it’s fun to just do something without the pressure of it being “right.” Is a painting a “bad” painting if you like the colors and enjoyed making it? It might not sell at a gallery, but if you enjoy it…why the hell not keep painting? As a case in point, I offer you this magical toilet, which hangs on my bathroom door. I made it after a series of dreams about blocked loos, and wanted something to ward off any further episodes of the same.

By most measures, this is not a good painting. The colors are too bright. The perspective is weird. The subject matter is puerile. But I really like it. And I enjoyed painting it. And it makes me laugh every time I see it, because it is garish and immature. So I’d say it was worth the time I spent to paint it. (Bonus: it seemed to have worked. I haven’t had a blocked-toilet dream since!)

The thing is, while painting this, I also learned a bit about watercolor, which I was able to apply to my next painting. So in a very short amount of time (I think this took 30 minutes?) I was able to make something that pleased me and taught me something. It was a small step that had big impact.

That’s the thing: small steps add up over time. If you do 10 push-ups and 10-situps every day for a year, you might not look like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, but you will improve your muscle-tone. Likewise, small creative steps lead to improvement. And the more steps you take, the further you’ll go. We don’t have to share the messy beginnings with the world on instagram or facebook–although we can if we have friendly and supportive people to cheer us on there. But it’s worth taking those little steps. Because they can add up into big things.

In 2018, I started working on something for NaNoWriMo. I didn’t make big strides during that November, but I made a pact with myself that I would write at least one sentence on the piece every day until it was finished. A year and a half later, it’s 85,000 words and counting. I’m not sure that I’ll get to the end any time soon, but I know that if I keep plugging away, I’ll get there someday. And I have people who are reading what I’ve written, and are eagerly awaiting more. That gives me a warm, fuzzy glow.

What I’m trying to say is:

Baby steps are better than no steps at all

I offer this up for your consideration, kind reader. What small step could you take today that would allow you to do something you love? Even for a couple of minutes? What’s stopping you from doing that? If it’s “I might look dumb,” tell that voice to shut up. Then go do the thing. You’ll probably find that you feel a lot better after you’ve done it.

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