A new view of success
April 2, 2021
by Ivan Raconteur

Our society seems obsessed with “winning.” Some people think that anything short of being the best at an activity constitutes failure. These people are missing the point of participation.

I recently read a story attributed to author Kurt Vonnegut.

In it, he related an incident from his youth in which he told someone that he participated in theater, choir, played violin and piano, and took art classes. He dismissed these things, saying, “But I’m not good at any of them.”

Then he got some excellent advice.

The gentleman to whom he was talking replied, “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and all that teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do at them.”

This shows incredible insight, and provides a powerful life lesson.

Looking back, I can see countless examples of this in my own life.

A dear friend encouraged me to take up drawing and painting – not with the intention of becoming a professional artist, but because it’s fun.

As soon as I abandoned the misguided notion that things are not worth doing unless one is an expert, I opened the door to hours of satisfying entertainment.

Painting allows me to practice creative expression in a way that is completely different from the writing I do every day. The things I draw or paint may never end up in a gallery, but I’m doing it for myself, not to compete with some external standard of excellence.

Making that mental shift is extremely liberating.

When I was young, I played bass in the school orchestra and band, and I even took a few piano lessons.

I never had any intention of becoming a musician (and trust me, I wasn’t), but playing an instrument and learning how all the parts of a performance came together to create something larger than the sum of the individual pieces gave me a deeper appreciation of music than I would otherwise have.

Many years ago, a couple of my wonderful uncles took me out and gave me my first exposure to golf.

Prior to that, I had found golf intimidating. The golfers I knew were intense, and golfing appeared stressful, rather than relaxing.

But going out with a couple of guys who were doing it for fun made for many pleasant hours spent with good company on some beautiful courses.

We live in a results-driven society, but if we allow ourselves to fall into that trap, we will miss a lot.

Much of the satisfaction in trying new things comes from the process, not from the result.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for improvement, but we can’t expect to be experts in everything we try.

Vonnegut said the advice he got changed his life. Instead of thinking of himself as a failure because he didn’t excel at anything, he began doing things because he enjoyed them.

What a beautiful gift that simple advice was.

We all have the ability to do the same thing. If there is an activity we have thought about but never had the courage to try, we should give it a shot.

We may not become experts, but we will almost certainly learn from the experience, and we’ll probably have some fun along the way. It can also give us a deeper appreciation for various activities.

Trying new things gives us a broader understanding of the world in which we live.

We may not become experts, but when we give ourselves permission to do things on our own terms, we can add a tremendous amount of joy to our lives.

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