On the very best summer days, the beach at our family’s cottage collects boats all day long—little ones and big ones, friends and family, friends of friends. The day starts quietly and then all of a sudden there is music and someone is grilling and boats are rafted off.
Everyone takes turns on jet skis and paddleboards, and we make sandcastles and jump off the boat a million times in a row. There’s always a fun and crazy puzzle of people.
On one of these summer days last August, a friend of a friend of someone wanted to try paddle boarding for the first time. Her name was possibly Caitlyn. Or Kate. Kathy? It’s a loose operation, clearly.
We gave her the one-minute speech.
Start on your knees, no shame in falling, don’t go out too far, avoid the jet skis. But the next thing I knew, she was really far out. My son Henry and I paddled out to her, and I asked if she needed help.
I can stand up, she said. But then I can’t get stable, and I can’t start paddling till I get stable.
I totally get it, I said. But here’s the thing: it’s the paddling that makes you stable, not the other way around. You’ll never stay up unless you start paddling.
I’m thinking of this now, in a snowstorm, worlds away from that hot summer day, because of a conversation we had around our table recently.
A friend of ours was talking.
She was sharing about all the things she is trying to figure out, arrange in her mind, make a plan for, make sense of. She said, “There are so many things I want to do this year, and I realize that I’ve been trying to think it all through for so long. But you know what? I’ll never have all the information. I’ll never know all there is to know about something. Sometimes you just have to act.”
Exactly that. One thousand times that. Sometimes you just have to act.
Because it’s the paddling that keeps you on the board. It’s the forward motion that gives you the stability you need. Sometimes we just have to pick a direction and start pulling that paddle through the water, and along the way we’ll get the stability and confidence we’re looking for. But you’ll never find it at the beginning, standing there, waiting for the waves to stop shaking the board. The waves never stop shaking the board.
Forward motion brings stability.
I’ve come back to Voltaire’s words a million times: Perfect is the enemy of the good.
You’ll never feel totally ready. The plan will never be perfectly formed. You’ll never have the money you think you need or the support you wish you had. You’ll never feel as strong and prepared as everyone else seems. (Psst: they’re not that strong and prepared, either. No one is.)
Just paddle, because that’s what gives you what you need to stay afloat. Paddle, because forward motion allows you to steer, to turn, to head into a wave, or away from one. Paddling is what puts you in charge of the situation, instead of being at the mercy of the waves, waiting for stability that will never come.
No one feels ready.
No one has every last thing they need. But the people who change their lives, the people who make beautiful things, the people who make a difference in our world—they are the people who paddle, who are willing to do it badly, who give up perfect in favor of good.
Another gem: anything worth doing is worth doing badly. That’s Chesterton, who I just adore. (I read Orthodoxy every year and find a dozen new treasures every time.)
What do you need to start doing badly, instead of pretending that there will be some magic moment when you are able to do it perfectly?
It’s time to paddle.
So what does it look like for you to just start paddling today?
What have you been over-thinking, wiggling like a loose tooth? Are you hiding, planning, and information gathering, because you’re scared to plunge into something new?
Here’s to paddling imperfectly—badly, even. It’s what keeps us afloat.
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