Friday, April 6, 2012

In Defense of Willing Semi-Competence

I am at best an okay piano player. Oh, I am not without certain talents. I'm a fabulous sight-reader, and I can make the offertory end at the exact moment the collection plates reach the front of the church. But I hate sharps, and my stubby thumbs make running octaves impossible. Nevertheless, I never say "no" when I'm asked to play the piano.

What I have is willing semi-competence.

 I know without a doubt that there are better, more accomplished, more polished pianists in Small Town, most of whom probably wince when they hear me fumble the measures following a page turn (as I always do). I also know, though, that if there is any way to fit a request into my schedule I will play for any funeral, wedding, music contest, community chorus--well, anything that requires me to pull out my black accompanist skirt and sit down at the keyboard.

That's because my mother taught me that willing semi-competence trumps unwilling perfection, and she was right. If I waited until my skills were perfected, I wouldn't have spent my spring Monday evenings playing for a community chorus of mostly octogenarians as they belt out Rodgers and Hammerstein classics. I would have missed encouraging a sixth grader as she played her clarinet solo with the piano accompaniment for the first time and grinned at producing "REAL music!".

The truth is that most times, when people ask you to do something, they know what they are getting and they don't care. When you are asked to host a meeting, they know that the remodeling of your living room was done imperfectly, and that each Sheetrock seam shows. They don't care. When you are asked to bring a dessert to a funeral dinner the organizers know you will use a cake mix rather than bake from scratch. They don't care.

What you are being asked, when you are asked to do something, is whether you are WILLING. And if you are willing, you probably will be asked again, because willing is a lot more rare than perfection. (Just ask anyone who has tried to find volunteers for, well, for almost anything.)

You also will find that there is a great satisfaction in being willing. You will be part of the group that meets in your imperfectly-remodeled house, and find friendship and support there. You will be right beside the kid who has just nailed that solo, and be splattered by the overflow of joy. You will know that even if you messed up the introduction to "Climb Every Mountain," the program wouldn't have happened at all if you hadn't been willing.

Of course, there are times when willing semi-competence is not enough. I would not look for this quality in my surgeon, for example, or in my mechanic or my kids' teachers.

But in an awful lot of the parts of life that are filled with satisfaction, I'll still take willing semi-competence over unwilling perfection. Something is almost always better than nothing, and unwilling is nothing.


  1. This is a wonderful post. I agree about not waiting for perfection. Also, thank you for being that willing piano player. You & those like you make my life much more joyous.

  2. Really enjoyed this post.