You Don’t Have To Be Perfect To Contribute

Every day we’re confronted with messages that we are not good enough.  We’re not thin enough, our skin isn’t nice enough, we’re not trendy enough, not efficient enough, not crafty enough, not good enough parents…okay, this could end up being a very long list.  Facebook, Tumblr, blogs, magazines, Pinterest, TV – everywhere we look, we get the message that other people are doing things right and you’re doing them wrong.

This meme has been floating around which sums up this conflict, and an appropriate response, pretty nicely:

So your cupcakes didn’t come out looking like Martha Stewart’s on the first try.  No worries!  You’re not Martha Stewart, and that’s okay (for a variety of reasons).  Only extremely special and remarkably talented people do something perfectly on their first attempt, and if you’re not one of them – well, you’ll just need to try again.  Whether or not you have the courage to try again is what will ultimately set you apart.

In the meantime, you still have cupcakes.

So what are your talents?  What little things do you do to contribute to the world?  You may not be Mother Theresa, but everybody has gifts.  It’s whether or not, and how, you use them that matters:

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:6-8)

I ain’t a prophet, but I read those words about encouragement right at the time when I was planning to relaunch this blog.  I was thinking about what I wanted to write about and if just encouraging my readers really counted in the world of positivity blogs.  I don’t have any big answers about self-image or formulating a career path or having perfect relationships – but maybe doing my little part to encourage others is good enough after all.

As for the other stuff I can do:

1) Cooking.  I’m pretty decent at making up or tweaking recipes to suit my needs, and while Kevin is easy to please, he always thanks me for making dinner.

2) Writing.  It’s hard in this day and age to think of writing as a marketable skill.  Everywhere you look, writers are being asked to write for free to “get exposure,” while the publishing industry seems to self-destructing.  Occasionally I get reminders that my writing is worthwhile – winning a poetry prize, being asked to write marketing materials for our church, getting a particularly heartfelt comment on this blog (cough) – but often I feel like writing is a waste of my time.  It’s only been in the last month or so that writing this blog has really felt like a contribution to the world, even though I’m not earning money for it.

3) Singing.  I’m not the best, or the loudest, but I can carry a tune and that gives me the ability to praise or entertain myself in the car equally.  Singing and piano also helped me develop my musical ear, which is making learning guitar a lot easier.

I could include other things – taking photos, for instance, or cleaning.  They’re not grand or glorious things, but they’re things I can do.  Me.  And my tiny part of the universe needs me to do them sometimes.  Make a list like this for yourself to remind yourself of what you contribute to the world.  Your list might include some truly admirable things – teaching children to read in India, going to medical school, running your own business, being a parent – or it may include some ordinary, everyday things.  Both are fine.  Both are great!  They’re your gifts, given to you to use to the best of your ability.  If you need to, follow up with a comparison you want to get over.  For example, for my list:

“I am not the Barefoot Contessa.  I am myself, and that’s okay.”

“I am not Jhumpa Lahiri.  I am myself, and that’s okay.”

“I am not Adele.  I am myself, and that’s okay.”

So who are you, and what are you contributing?

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2 thoughts on “You Don’t Have To Be Perfect To Contribute

  1. I find it somewhere between funny and heartbreaking that you, of all people, could ever think writing is a waste of your time. You are one of three people I know on a personal level who inspire me with your creativity and diligence just by keeping a regularly updated, excellent blog, nevermind winning contests. Every post I read from you challenges me to bring voice through a pen once again.

    Still, for the moment, to the universe at large, I can contribute acceptably good manners, a decent singing voice (with harmonizing action thrown in Absolutely Free!), and an invincible will to better myself. That may seem contradictory to the point of your post, but I believe in a distinct difference between being content with oneself and being complacent.

    • I’m glad you’re inspired! It’s hard to get out of the “not earning money, therefore not worthwhile” mindset, though.

      Definitely agree about challenging and bettering yourself, and I don’t think it’s contradictory – it’s just a parallel issue that I didn’t discuss. I think more often the problem isn’t being complacent, it’s feeling like we need to be better at everything – when really, in some areas of our lives, we are probably already good enough. That doesn’t mean kicking back and calling it good because you landed a part-time job at McDonalds or whatever, but it also doesn’t mean beating yourself up because you didn’t get a PhD when all your friends did.

      So, for me, like you said, I won a prize. Woo! That was awesome – and every poem I’ve submitted to publications since has been rejected, even the one that won the prize. I’m not going to consider myself a failure, but I’m also over my daydreams of being Washington’s youngest poet laureate. (I wasn’t really dreaming that, but I did think I was pretty awesome for a few weeks there. Point is, I may be finding the middle road, but at least I’m still walking.)

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