On the benefits of writing and running poorly

Reclaiming the lost art of being bad and challenging ‘hustle culture’

In this day and age, hustle culture is the false idol we worship. We pay tribute by working overtime and searching for our next big break, hungry for fame and fortune. We convince ourselves that it is just around the corner, if only we could work a little harder and a little longer. Surely that is how all of the greats got their start.
Instead of heaven, we work toward the otherworldly realm of perfection, one that we are certain others have attained. In the world of entrepreneur celebrities, influencers and LinkedIn, flawlessness and riches seem just within our reach.
When we do not measure up, we crumble. Studies have shown that people are growing increasingly anxious. Steeped in a pressure-cooker environment, we are encouraged to do more and to do it faster, longer and better than anybody else on the planet. Failure is not an option. Neither is doing anything badly.
Whatever happened to the “s—– first draft,” as novelist Anne Lamott calls it? What has happened to our collective understanding that, in order to do something well, you first need to do something poorly?
Instead, we think about the mythical hustle: people working day and night to build their dream. Paradoxically, though we describe the hustle as a hard grind, we also aestheticize it as effortless and breezy. We conceive of it as an inherent trait, present in humanity from birth — what we call the work ethic and drive.
Case in point, Lamott writes, “People tend to look at successful writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell.”
There is the obsession with routine in hustle culture. A quick Google search yields a laundry list of successful people’s morning schedules and bedtime rituals. Why? We are convinced that there is some secret ingredient that we are missing, that if we start following in the footsteps of Zuckerberg’s breakfasts or Hemingway’s writing binges we may finally achieve success.
It is nowhere near as simple as that, and the pressure is killing us. What is more, we are now encouraged to monetize everything. Hobbies are a thing of the past. They have instead been replaced by side-hustles.
Love painting? Open an Etsy shop. Spend all your time in the gym? Start a workout TikTok and get that ad revenue for protein powder. Great at doing makeup? Prom season is nigh. Here is your appointment calendar.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with turning a passion into a project; that is the reason why I find myself writing for this newspaper. But with a commitment to a hobby as a hustle comes entry to a competitive market and therefore the inevitable new goalpost of perfection. This is the pact that you must enter when you monetize your talents.
So, what about those hobbies in which you dabble? Hustle culture would tell you that they must be mercilessly sacrificed for the sake of efficiency and time management. There is no room in the schedule to be bad at something when you are sprinting toward perfection. If you do not start out good at something, it is more practical to let it go and refocus on your own personal McGuffin.
I am not convinced.
I propose a new corollary to the “s—– first draft.” You do, indeed, need to be bad at something before you can be good. Nobody learns how to ride a bike without scraping their knees a few times. But there are also some instances in which you need to always be bad at something. What is more, you need to love being bad at it.
For me, that something is running. I could not tell you the last time I ran anything faster than a 12-minute mile, and I am okay with that. When I go out for a run, I am not looking for perfection. I am not even striving toward mediocrity — that would be too much.
A run, for me, is about being outside. It is about feeling my body move and appreciating the world around me. It is about listening to my favorite music and spending time with my thoughts. I walk when I feel like walking. I sprint when I feel like sprinting. I stop to take photos of flowers and animals and I stop to pick just the right song for the moment.
I will never win a race. I will probably never even participate in a race. This is the way I like it.
When you give yourself permission to not only do something badly, but to do so gloriously, joyfully, wholeheartedly, you begin to understand the world differently. In willful imperfection, you get a stronger sense of what really matters — not speed or endurance, but rather beauty and fresh air.
We need to relearn how to be bad at things. We need to write poetry without posting it online, begging for likes. We need to start tinkering around in our workshops and build useless devices or rickety tables and enjoy the journey rather than the destination. We need to play soccer and trip over our cleats and miss the goal every single time and laugh when it is over. We need to paint without comparing it to the masters in the museums, instead worrying only about our own experience — the paint on our hands and the beautiful mess that ensues.
So, go ahead — be bad. Do not be surprised by how good it feels.