You’re Never Going to Be Fully Ready

Shauna Niequist

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.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons: Ruth Hartnup

Photo Credit: Creative Commons: Ruth Hartnup

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?

Are you letting your desire to do it flawlessly keep you from doing it at all?

Here’s to paddling imperfectly—badly, even. It’s what keeps us afloat.

Shauna’s newest book Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are will release on March 10. Savor is a year-long devotional featuring some of Shauna’s most loved insights, reflections and recipes. Join our excitement and pre-order the book today!

Shauna Niequist

Shauna Niequist

This is a post by Shauna Niequist, one of the Storyline Contributors. Pick up a copy of her latest book, Savor on her website and make sure to follow along on Twitter (@sniequist) for regular updates. To read more of her posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.

  • Ashley Magers

    Thank you so much for this post! It is truly an answer to prayer because I have been overthinking a job offer in hopes that just thinking about it would bring about stability and confidence. This post reminded me that the “waves never stop shaking the board” and that it is time for me to take action & accept the job!

  • Such a great analogy! Thanks you. Last month I started writing a book. I had been waiting for the time to “look and feel” a certain way before I committed to the project, but it dawned on me recently that that’s never how it has ever worked for me. The beauty unfolds and the direction comes when I show up and choose to act. Your words really encouraged me!

  • Thanks for this post. I know it in my head, but I still get stuck. I want to make sure I’m really on the right track and not wasting my time – but I need to take some steps out and see how things end up. We have an idea to build a network and business around “more meaningful travel.” I think it’s probably time to stop dawdling. :)

  • Mallory Pickering

    Cried because I know!

  • I love this! My husband and I compared this to Super Mario the other day! Instead of trying to move UP in life, we just need to keep moving forward. Moving up, doesn’t get you anywhere in Mario, just act, just take a step forward and then another. Thank you for saying it so well!

  • Yes. This. Thank you. I’ve spent the last four months creating, planning, writing, and thinking about my blog and growing increasingly frustrated. I finally had to admit that I can’t know every possible thing right now, and that I just needed to click “publish” and figure it out along the way. It’s so much more fun to paddle along, enjoy the view, and see what happens.

    • I’m with ya sister….just did this myself. We’re never ready! It only takes 20 seconds of insane bravery…just hit publish :) You’re good enough right now. You’ll never know what you could have been until you try. Xo

  • Michelle Watt

    For me, I want to be healed. Enough to not do harm. To move from a place of complete forgiveness. To act and speak clearly in truth and love. So yes, the wanting to get it right comes up. This wanting to raise a standard with standards. But we must keep moving right? God moves for us. And I so want to be like Him. My realization today was one of faith. I have to step out into the field. Believing He has prepared a table for me there. Right in the middle of every enemy. That’s the faith part. That He’s loving enough to do that. That everything we need is at that table. And like water to wine, He transforms that table, in front of every adversary, to the banquet table. The wedding feast. When I trust Him and step out, I realize I was at the party all along. Thank you, Shauna. Your words today + Scott’s from yesterday hit home and a home run in my heart. I chose to step out today. I’d been sitting on the edge of a field.

    • Selena Owens

      Beautifully expressed. Your comment plus this article helped me. :)

      • Michelle Watt

        Selena, how dear of you to say something! :) Isn’t it funny how if we speak up we somehow all get helped? Your comment blessed me! The big step I took, into the field, was to believe I could write something that would help people. Lol. Poetic justice indeed. Bless you, Selena. Praying blessings all over you today. God’s got us. There is plenty of room at the table where the Kingdom never ends. Hugs.

        • Selena Owens

          “Poetic justice indeed.” Yes!! Thank you for being candid and bold to share a glimpse of your life. Thank you for the prayers…much needed and appreciated!

    • Tina Shively Pizor

      Reading your comment was an instant reply to a prayer. Beautifully written. Everything my heart wanted to say but could not find the words.

      • Michelle Watt

        Isn’t it dear of God to answer our prayers through tiny, tucked away comments in a blog post? He cares about every little thing. And uses little things to care. He must really love you. :) Whatever has happened or whatever is happening, we can go to the table. He’ll only serve us good things. Things to make us both healthy and strong. So grateful to be sitting beside you today. (Maybe we’ll get nachos today! Lol) hugs to you❤

        • Tina Shively Pizor

          Yes, when God sends us those little gifts, I call them nuggets :) Nachos sound great to me. LOL Thank you, God your love and grace!!

  • Wow, that hit home Shauna. I’m pretty bad at the whole paddling, acting, moving forward thing. Fear is a pretty gripping, intimidating thing. In the end though, it’s like the wizard in the Wizard of Oz….while scary at first, standing face to face with the real figure wasn’t so intimidating after all….just a cute old guy. Fear’s like that, at least with me. Thanks for the simple, grace-filled reminder to paddle.

  • Rachael Boley

    Absolutely love this. This past year of my life has taught me so much about giving up perfect in order to accept good. This is just beautiful!

  • Justin Ricklefs

    I love this, thanks Shauna.

  • I just wrote a blog post today about jumping into something new. This post was timely and much needed. I had been agonizing for a while about my decision and just decided to “paddle forward” today :)

  • This is exactly what I needed to hear today. Thank you so much for sharing these words!

  • Thanks Shauna!
    This is SO TRUE! I started my own blog this week after MONTHS of planning…and waiting. Until it suddenly hit me…all my fancy planning was really my way of hiding my FEAR and better yet, PROCRASTINATING.
    I made the decision to LAUNCH my first blog ( this past week and the feedback has been overwhelming. I am so thankful that I did! And ya know what else? It’s kinda fun being a beautiful mess…it feels authentic and honest…there’s less pressure. I get to lay my head on my pillow at night and know that I’m not “trying too hard” to impress. I’m just being ME. Totally unprepared. Totally NOT READY. But fully WILLING to submit to fear! 😉

    ps- Love you, and your work. I heard you at Storyline Chicago a few months ago and it changed my life.
    Thank you- to you and Don and Tim and the whole gang for what you do.
    Not a day goes by that I don’t think about what I learned at that conference.


    Love always,
    Sister Kate

  • Johanna

    Yes, yes, yes. Shauna, thank you for saying so beautifully what I’ve finally been learning over the past half a year. So often I don’t do something because I don’t feel ready… But I’ll never feel ready. I’m learning to start anyway. It’s terrifying and exciting and joyful.

  • Lesa Johnson

    This is so timely for me! I just started a goal on Sunday that I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while now! I had heard the quote as “Perfect is the Enemy of Done” this summer at a conference and it really stuck with me. I’ve been trying to repeat as my mantra for 2015 and am feeling pretty happy that I jumped in and got started paddling. :-) …Coincidentally paddle boarding is another one of my goals… THIS summer. :-)

  • Heidi

    I have diabetes. I’m alone in my little world. I don’t know anyone in my community to discuss it with, oh I have a lot of people online to discuss it with, but no one locally. My long term goal is to work internationally with people who have diabetes but little to no access to insulin and helping educate them and getting them the things they need but I need to start small. My goal for this year is to start a diabetes support group in my community. I’ve been scared, I’m basically an introvert, not a speaker-upper. This is stepping outside my comfort zone.

    Today I will start paddling, I will outline the steps I need to take to get this support group started so that I can start making those steps and start the paddle moving smoothly through the water.
    Thanks for such great inspiration !

  • Great post! Just what I needed to hear today. Thank you for your words!

  • Judy

    This was not a coincidence. I tried paddle boarding last week for the first time in my life so the analogy made perfect sense to me. Having lost our 27 year old son 2 years ago, I, and my husband, have been at a standstill in our lives in many ways. Although we will carry our broken hearts with us until we meet our son again, your post was an encourager to start moving forward, slowly for us, but still moving forward. I think about your words every day and recall the feeling of getting up on that board and paddling to stability.

  • Crystal Owens

    SO needed this today. Thank you for your insight and thank You Lord for your perfect timing!

  • Matthew

    It does seem like everyone around us has it all together, doesn’t it? That’s my default mode, to start scanning everyone around me and spotting their perfections. Only recently have I learned to stop beating myself up because I’m not perfect. And how do we distract ourselves enough to not beat ourselves up? We keep paddling. Thanks for this wonderful analogy.

  • I had a dream once where I was sitting in the middle of a water slide, everyone else rushing past me. It was time to stop watching and get involved. Love this, Shauna.

  • Guest

    This is so true. For me I’ve found that most of the growth I experience personal has come from stepping into roles where I wasn’t necessarily fully prepared for. It forced me to learn and learn quickly. That’s not to say you should be foolish when deciding if you should take a risk, but if you wait until you’re able to do something flawlessly before starting you’ll never start!

  • This is so true. For me I’ve found that I experience the most personal growth when I’m stepping into roles where I’m not necessarily fully prepared. It forces me to learn and learn quickly. That’s not to say you should be foolish when deciding if you should take a risk, but if you wait until you’re able to do something flawlessly before starting you’ll never start!

  • KJQ

    21 years ago I chose to get married knowing I wasn’t fully ready. It was the greatest mistake of my life. Both my wife and I lied about who we were and how we felt about each other. What has followed is years of pain and suffering I’ve cause my wife and vice versa. I had and still have so many painful wounds from my family of origin and early life that I am utterly incapable of intimacy. Every time I have allowed myself to open up a bit and be vulnerable I was crushed. I believe in my inner being that there is not one single human being on this planet who would not hurt me if I gave them the power to do so. So, while some people may just be mild procrastinators, there are some things one really needs to be ready for.

  • I was out watering my newly planted vegetable garden today when a lady who was walking her dogs happened by. She told me I had done my garden all wrong and I replied, “I’m sure I did. But if I didn’t do anything I was never going to learn. So i just stuck stuff in the garden and here I am.”

  • Love this! It speaks straight to where I’m at right now. I keep getting bombarded by this message wherever I go and whatever I read. Just move forward. Follow the call. Trust it. Even if you don’t have it all figured out. And something that’s really helped me is this: It’s not about succeeding or failing, or people getting it or not. It’s about following the call and going on a journey. It’s scary, but the waves are never going to stop stop, so do it afraid.

  • Linell Catalan

    I don’t know. I understand that we can’t always plan things out. I feel like this article makes sense within the context of not knowing what all the outcomes will be in any given situation. And I understand we should surrender to that notion and that any decision made succumbs to the unknown, but it would be unwise to disregard that some concept of wise and careful planning is useful and can save us from grief. Sometimes waiting reaps more reward than aimless trying. Sometimes aimless trying is only ok for a season, then at some point we should apply what we learned and grow in patience.

  • Jodi Freeman Marshall

    This week we get our first foster care placement.
    To say I am nervous is grossly understating it.
    We have been preparing the house. Nesting on steroids.
    Today it hit me full force. This is actually happening. A sweet, fragile, preemie is being placed in our care.
    Ours. Have they seen all the plants I have killed?
    Oh God! (…uttered prayerfully…) Are we prepared for this?
    The house is ready.
    The crib is ready.
    His tiny clothes are washed, folded, and lovingly tucked away in his dresser. The changing table stands in waiting, decked out with a million tiny diapers.
    But my heart.
    Is my heart ready for all that is coming?
    Am I ready for the inevitable pain, weariness, and heartbreak?
    Are we ever?
    Am I ready for the scrutiny?
    God knows I am not.
    Am I ready to embrace the imperfect perfection of our new normal?
    Yes. Here is to launching out into the deep. Paddle on.

  • Ernest Witmer

    Makes me think of several other quotes: 1) “You can’t steer a parked vehicle.” And, 2) from the farmer who was constantly telling his hired help: “There aren’t enough mistakes being made around here!” In other words, there wasn’t enough being done.

    Here are several of my own un-ready endeavors.

    1) I wasn’t ready for marriage. But boy! Am I ever glad I was married to Rachel for over 28 years.

    2) I wasn’t ready for children. Today I am RICH with five of them, plus three grandsons thrown in as a bonus!

    3) I wasn’t ready for my wife’s death. Yet because she was called out in the middle of her game, she got a stadium-sized standing ovation.

    4) I wasn’t ready to write a book about her. But believe it or not, it’s about to be released.

    5) I can’t think of anything I was really ready for… but I’m ready to live the rest of my life, and I’m ready to die.

  • Dr. Mike Ferguson

    Thank you Shauna for this confirmational post. It has been on my heart to start a Christ-Centered Teen Text Crisis Line. Everything is in place, ready to launch, ready to help teens in crisis through text, but I have been fearful that I can’t stand all the way up on my board! I caught a statement two weeks ago that said, “you can’t steer a parked car.” Your story, your inspiration and insight have confirmed it is time to start paddling. Now is the time to give the teen text crisis line number out and make it happen. Not everything is in place, but it is time to paddle. Thank you so much for your God-inspired words.

  • Jonathan Hankins

    As a paddler and blogger, I appreciated your paddling analogy. I used a similar connection to life and paddling in my blog not so long ago: