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Anything Worth Doing, Is Worth Doing Poorly

When you live with a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis the way you approach many aspects of life begins to change. I recently stumbled upon a really great expression that demonstrates this, one that my gut reaction to was, “No, no way,” until I really began to think about it. It goes like this: “Anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly.” I’m sure many of you are just as shocked as I was when I first read it. At first glance, it’s so counterintuitive to everything I’ve ever believed. Allow me a chance to explain it though, because adopting this mantra has been very beneficial to me.

Say what?

Yes, like many of you, I am very much aware of the idea that “anything worth doing, is worth doing well.” Basically meaning, if you are going to do something, you should give it your all, you should do the very best you can and really put forth a thorough effort. It’s really a slogan I have always tried to live out as best as I could, putting forth considerable effort into anything I undertook. Whether it be my studies, my career, or even a recreational adult kickball league (yes, they have those), I would give my very best. To say I was a competitive person in my youth would be a grand understatement. So to hear what sounds like the inverse of a motto that I lived by really gave me pause. I thought it made no sense. If something is worth any bit of your time, surely it’s worth all of your effort, or else why undertake it at all?

Enter chronic illness

My life has changed since I was a hardworking overachiever determined to not only have a successful career but also lead his adult kickball league to the city championship. The longer I’ve had MS, the more problems have arisen for me. My life is significantly different than it was even just ten years ago. I could talk about all of my various symptoms, but I do enough of that, so I will sum it up like this: everything takes me more effort. Whether it’s that I’m fatigued and starved for energy, or having trouble walking, or just mentally exhausted from living a life with an incurable disease, everything is just a little bit harder (OK, some things are much more difficult too). If I put all of my effort into something, then that’s it, I’m spent, I can’t function. You all know the spoon theory.

Something is better than nothing

That’s where the saying begins to make sense. I do have these difficulties, this life is exhausting, so if I can participate in my life, even if I can’t be 100% successful in what I’m doing, I still benefit. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. Maybe I can’t hang with friends all night, but, maybe I can go for an hour or two. Maybe I can’t clean my whole house, but I can pick up a few things here and there. Perhaps the idea of a full shower seems like an absolute nightmare, well, I can use a wash rag or moist towelette to clean a couple areas. Maybe I can’t do all the dishes, but I can get them soaking in some soapy water. I may be unable to do a great job at something, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do a “poor” job. It doesn’t mean I can’t at least take part in it somehow, even if I don’t complete it. Even if I do something halfway, that’s still 100% better than had I not done anything.

Small successes

The small successes that come from this attitude are extremely helpful for me. I suppose it’s another way of looking at a glass as half full, but actually practicing it. For me, that really required learning how to let myself off the hook. For example, I used to be really into working out. These days I’m extremely far removed from that, so the idea of exercising when I couldn’t do what I once did seemed very unpalatable. Once I got past that and realized that I didn’t have to do something as well as I once did, I began to benefit. Maybe I can’t lift a ton of weights anymore, but I can work out with some resistance bands for a few minutes and it still helps me.

Focusing on what I did do

I can still do something that can be beneficial to me even if I can’t do it all. Taking part and doing what you can, even if it’s not everything, is absolutely OK. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. You aren’t “half-assing” something, you’re doing what you are capable of, you are still part of it, you are still a success. It’s no longer, “Oh, I had to leave early”, it’s, “I got to see my friends for a bit”. It’s not, “I couldn’t clean the house”, it’s “I helped clean the house by picking up a few things.” I didn’t fail to shower, I managed to clean myself up a bit. Doing a little of anything, even if poorly, can still be extremely helpful.

Thanks so much for reading and always feel free to share!


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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • lcal
    2 months ago

    Hi Devin,
    Thank you so much for writing this, it’s a HUGE help. I know from your writing that you have struggled with getting to this point and Im proud of you and happy for you that you’ve got here and since ive been in the same hike and have not quite reached the top of the hill yet, reading this is an amazing motivation.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    1 month ago

    Thanks so much Lisa (@lcal )

  • Contalita
    2 months ago

    Thank You, Devin for your article and inspiring and reminding all of us that have or don’t have MS it truly is about your personal best!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 months ago

    Thanks so much @Contalita

  • MarveleeC
    2 months ago

    Devin, I just love every post of yours! This one really spoke to me-especially the last part. I’m going to try this with some of my challenges: Instead of “It took me five tries to make this transfer” I will say “I finally made this transfer” Instead of “I can’t walk”, it’s “Thank-goodness for my wheelchair”. Thanks SO much for writing.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 months ago

    Thanks so much @MarveleeC, really appreciate you taking the time to say that!

  • KimmyK
    2 months ago

    It took me a while to come to grips with the reality that my life was going to be different and it was OK.
    To say I “was” energetic would be an understatement. Allowing myself to rest when “I had stuff” to do was hard. Allowing anyone to see my house anything less than spotless before MS wasn’t happening. Always having food in the house, plenty of drink choices, etc. etc. Now, my motto is: listen to your body, if a friend comes over and dust bunies, lack of food and beverages bothers them then they’re not a real friend. I’m too tired to care. I do what I want, when I can, how I can and where I can. Like it or not, Frankly Scarlett…

    Devin, I enjoy your writing very much. Perhaps someday someone will want to read what I write.
    Best, Kim

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 months ago

    Thanks so much @KimmyK! I’m sure they will, I encourage you, and anyone readying this to submit your story on our stories page, it’s a great way to share your experience with others:

  • Yoshitail9
    2 months ago

    I would always say that a little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing, but my little bit is getting to be smaller and smaller and mostly on the couch. I have been grateful for the things I’ve been able to do over the years, not how I would have liked to do them (physically) but was able to do them regardless. I am a religious guy and count that in the equation but now that I’m in my 72nd year of life and 40th with MS, the bod is slowing down. Keep writing. I look forward to your articles.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 months ago

    Thanks so much @Yoshitail9, learning to appreciate the small things is so important with this disease!

  • potter
    2 months ago

    I am so happy you have a do what you can attitude! I have the same attitude since I was diagnosed eleven years ago. I still do everything I use to but for a shorter amount of time. Everyday I do stretch exercises then I make a simple breakfast. After that I head to my studio and work for several hours. I head back inside and throw a load of laundry in and thaw something for dinner. My husband retired this year so he is around to carry things for me. He loves to cook and does a little cleaning. Even though he doesn’t quite understand the problems MSers have he makes life easier for me. Potter

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