For so long, I thought the world was divided into two types of people – the do-ers and the dabblers.
The dabblers were those people who would try something - maybe learn a little about a topic, show some interest in a sport, read a bit about a foreign city or casually pick up a hobby – but never commit to it. Merriam Webster defines a dabbler as "someone not deeply engaged with something” or "a person who follows a pursuit without attaining proficiency or professional status."
To me, these people never "got good" at any of these dabbles. They just flitted and piddled their way through life. Dabbling just never felt appealing to me.
Then there were the do-ers. I considered them to be the ones who were getting "it" exactly right (whatever "it" happened to be - cooking, writing, working, exercising, playing an instrument, even reading a book). As someone intimidated by these proficient do-ers who were out there "getting it exactly right," I was often hesitant to try something new knowing it wasn't likely I'd get it exactly right.
So for a long time, there I sat suspended in a hallway between the room of do-ers who I thought were getting "it" exactly right and the room of dabblers who I saw as not really engaged in "it." The do-er’s room was pristinely perfect. The dabbler’s room was a chaotic mess. Neither room was attractive to me.
But I've come to learn there’s a third room off that hallway. It’s the room for “I want to try it even if I don’t get it right” camp. I can hang out there with no expectation of getting it exactly right - just the expectation of the experience. Once that dawned on me, I saw huge possibilities in things I always thought were too hard, too challenging, too far from my reach.
Sports is a good example. When I was in high school, girls didn't participate in sports unless they were tall or strong or talented. I decided that sports and athletic pursuits just weren't my thing. For many years as an adult, I dabbled in an exercise regimen, sticking closely to one or two class types I thought I could handle with my non-athletic leanings. But run a 5k? No way. Lift heavy weights? I'm too small. Ride 50 miles on a bike? Are you crazy?
Once I discovered that exercise didn't have to mean excelling at a sport, winning and losing, or even reaching a goal, I began to explore yoga, cycling, Pilates, kayaking and even scuba diving. I’ve come to enjoy the challenges of passionate dabbling in exercise and sports….not to mention the personal connections and health benefits that result.
Being a writer means always fighting the temptation of that last edit, one more proof, one final tweak. I always thought that was the beauty of writing using a keyboard. There was always a way to perfect the piece.
When I started a writing class last year, the instructor insisted we all use composition books rather than computers for our writing exercises. Yikes. That meant it wouldn’t be possible to edit out mistakes, move things around or delete bad grammar. I was a do-er when it came to writing. It had to be exactly right before I hit send.
But dabbling in writing by hand in that composition book using my purple pen led to lots of new paths to follow, ideas to flesh out, and, much to my surprise, even poems to write. I still like the cut and paste of a computer, but that experience let me see I can think differently when I write by hand.
Fresh flowers in my home and on my work desk bring me great joy, but I always settled for just shoving a few stems of grocery store flowers in a vase because I thought formal arranging was for creative, talented floral designers.
Last fall, I accepted a friend's invitation to take flower arranging classes. I went mainly because she was kind enough to invite me, not because I thought I'd be any good at it. I pretty quickly figured out that there's no secret formula in creating an attractive flower arrangement.
Ever since, I’ve been passionately dabbling every week with a dozen random flowers from the grocery store, a few stems of greens cut from the yard and a supply of mason jars. This translates into instant joy for me…and I've come to learn the same is true for family and friends who have enjoyed my creations.
I’ve always had a dream of performing on the Grand Ole Opry. That was surely a do-er’s dream, not a dabbler’s dream…showing up on stage with a guitar strapped around my neck, decked out in a spangled top and cool cowboy boots. You can’t dabble your way to the Grand Old Opry.
But…that dream did kind of come true due to some pretty committed music dabbling over the past year. Thanks to my uke-a-lady friends, a couple of patient instructors and a commitment to just practice, I am living that dream…just on another stage, with a different instrument and a somewhat tamer outfit. Read that story here.
Once I’d made a commitment to reading a book, I was determined to finish it. I wouldn’t dabble with a book. I spent many drawn out hours slogging through a book I didn’t enjoy because of a misguided belief that just putting it down meant defeat.
But what’s the use of reading a book that doesn’t engage, entertain or educate? So now I’m a passionate book dabbler. I’ve bought many books in the past few years that just caught my eye on the bookstore (and I only buy hard copy books from independent booksellers).
Have I finished them all? No way. Do I have unfinished books in my car, in my briefcase, in my beach bag, in my bike knapsack, beside my bed? I sure do. I’m dabbling in books ranging from fiction and inspiration to how-to and travel. All of them are unfinished and may stay that way. And that’s just fine.
Now, I find myself comfortably hanging out in this messy, colorful, aromatic third room that is chock full of musical instruments, flowers, books, bikes, weights, notebooks, vases and boxes of possibilities I don’t even know about yet.
If I could add the word “passionate” to the dictionary definition of dabbler - "a person who passionately follows a pursuit without attaining proficiency or professional status” – I think I could live with that! It’s about the journey and not the destination…the practice and not the perfect.