A few days ago, I unintentionally caught up with an old friend, and we ended up talking about how we’ve been doing in the last six months. Among the things that came up in our reunion, one of them is my pursuit of learning guitar. Around the time when we still regularly talk to each other, I told her of my desire to play guitar and how I’ve started taking self-taught lessons. The last time I met her, all she knew was that I was stuck with very little improvements, courtesy of never having touched a guitar ever in my life and a case of difficult time management. Six months passed by, and to her surprise, I told her that I’m still continuing my self-taught lessons despite any major progress. With my improvements (or rather the lack of it), “most people would probably have given up,” she said.
It stuck with me—how much I cling onto this newly found hobby of mine—even after we separate ways once again. I’ve been experimenting with a lot of hobbies, trying out new things I deem interesting just for the sake of it, and I can say there’s a lot of them because of how short-lived they are. I picked up one, and somewhere along the way, I can see myself failing miserably in what I do, then I drop it. I never got past the beginner level. Hence why every time someone asks me what I like to do with my spare time, I’m inclined to give additional information due to my ever-changing hobbies and lack of progress in it. Like that one time when I made cooking a hobby, for example. I tried making my own dish to eat at least once a day, exploring recipe variations to try out one day, and was really interested in the art of cooking in general. Supposedly, it was enough for it to be considered as my hobby at the time, but if someone were to ask me what I like to do in my spare time, I can’t just simply answer them with an “I like cooking,” I have to add it with a “but I’m not good at it.” It doesn’t feel right to go around telling others I enjoy doing something wherein I’m doing it poorly; it feels like being an impostor, to say that I like cooking only for them to find out I’m actually not that great at it. I’ve been conditioned to think that no matter what activities I’m interested in at a time, if I’m not doing it with marketable competence, then it’s not really a valid hobby.
This kind of mindset applies to even long-lasting hobbies of mine, like writing. I would say I’ve been writing ever since I was in middle school because that’s when I started to do it “properly” (the indication of writing something “properly” being you get validations from people telling you your writing is good and worth to be published somewhere, like a niche poetry social media account or something). If you ignore that, then technically I’ve been writing since I was six years old, when I got my mother to buy me a diary in which I wrote about whatever happened in the life of a six-year-old girl almost every day.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always associated my writings with my self-worth. The only time I genuinely find enjoyment in writing is when I am able to create something good, something that I’m satisfied with. Once I write something substandard, or when I feel like my writing skill is declining, I am compelled to hate my work. Why should I let myself enjoy something that I like doing almost every day if I’m not good at it? I thought there was no use in a hobby if you’re just mediocre at it.
When I found out there’s no use for me in writing, I decided to abandon it for all the fear and damage it brought to my self-worth. I couldn’t bring myself to create something mediocre, let alone something bad. I couldn’t let myself do this for fun because the fear of doing it poorly will always haunt me and prevent me from making any progress past a blank paper. Despite everything that I’ve done, all the time and energy I have put into expressing myself in strings of words (even when I’m not doing it “properly”, like writing a diary when you’re six), I can no longer bring myself to write or talk about writing. I am nothing but my failures, my incompetencies. I am forced to speak of it in a degrading way—” I like writing, just not really well,” “I just came up with random words most of the time,” “I’m not seriously good at it.”—as if I have to downgrade the importance of it to me, as if I have to suppress my genuine love for the art of writing, simply because when I write, I write poorly.
After I abandoned writing, I felt empty because when you strip yourself off of the things you love, there’s nothing left in you but emptiness.
It took a while, but I started building a different relationship with my hobby, changing my perspectives on what it means to create something and to create something bad. I realized I had trapped myself in a state of constant apology and shame for my mediocrities, only allowing myself to come back out when I could be good enough. But that’s the tricky part, you will never be good enough. When you measure yourself with a punishing self-improvement metric, you will never catch up with it. Before you know it, you will never return to the joy your hobbies would bring to you.
It took me even more time to start internalizing how much I don’t deserve to be punished simply because I’m not good enough, starting to normalize that being mediocre at things is still worth enjoying. Nothing has ever felt more free to me than doing things for my own enjoyment without having to constantly seek validations; letting myself be satisfied with what I have created even when the metrics said otherwise; because I create this, I deserve to feel content with it, and I deserve to be happy because of it. Humans are meant to derive joy from creating things—from writing or painting or singing or baking or knitting—so why cut people off from it? Why do we condition ourselves to fear our mediocrity?
If I’m a worse writer than I was yesterday, I want myself to be fine with it. If I am not more than a mediocre cook, I want to be at peace with it. If I am stuck in the same beginner level of playing guitar, I want to still be proud of myself. Because if not, then I might box away from my hobbies again and go back to being nothing. Being mediocre is much better than going through that emptiness, so let people be mediocre for as long as they want to.