the gentle pursuit of a modest competence

I loved this recent op-ed by Tim Wu, ‘In Praise of Mediocrity.’ It’s a paean to the Hobby - not as an all-consuming passion, not as something that you’re going to be a champion at - but at a pleasant way to spend your time doing something that you’re NOT a professional at. He argues that there’s been a decline of hobbies themselves. Or maybe a weird professionalization of hobbies?

I was recently telling a friend about my many weird side projects, and he said something like, “I don’t know how you have time for all that.” My immediate gut response was:

“It’s easy if you do a bad job.”

But really - it’s not that I’m out to a bad job, or half-ass a bunch of stuff. But I AM only doing all my cuneiform-tablet-carving, book-publishing, baijiu-reviewing, mandarin-learning, stone-carving, etc because it’s fun. And it’s fun to do those things even if you’re not good at them yet, and it’s fun to learn and to get better. It’s amateurism in the most value-neutral sense of the word: an amateur is a lover of something.

This is the key line in the essay for me:

Lost here is the gentle pursuit of a modest competence, the doing of something just because you enjoy it, not because you are good at it.

I also have this feeling about music and performance too (I have a real soft spot for hobbyist music projects cough-cough-St-Lenox) but that’s a rant for a different time.

The Sea Hates a Coward