Years ago, a women’s magazine asked me to write an article about the joy of taking up a new hobby. I’m not a hobby kinda person, but I decided to accept the challenge.

To give the article credence, I needed a new hobby, so I took up knitting. After one or two lessons from a mostly impatient knitting-store lady, I realized I could knit a scarf in one night. But that was as far as I cared to go with my new-found hobby. I had no intention of mastering the art of knitting. That deliberate choice, that deliberate mediocrity, was all I really wanted.

My mother, on the other hand, can knit beautiful creations, following intricate patterns, all while chatting with her Knit Wit group. I don’t know how she does it, but she can also play bridge and Mahjong, so we are wired differently. And that’s okay. I knitted a chunky yellow scarf, wrapped it around my neck, went for a long run, and turned in my article the next morning.

Unfortunately, the editor turned it down. As much as she wanted to run the article, she couldn’t. “We are selling aspiration, ambition and self-improving achievements to our readers,” she said. Unsaid was, not your lousy joy at underachievement and one-stitch scarves.

 Ouch, that really stung, but, now, I’m finally happy to own it. It’s taken a long time to get to discover the great freedom in dabbling in things I’ve always wanted to try. Once I let go of the self-imposed burden of striving for excellence, I learned to marvel in mediocrity.

There are so many ways to try something new without climbing the corporate achievement ladder. And therein lies the joy and the freedom. I can put a book into a “Did Not Finish” pile without even a twinge of regret once I realized not finishing a meh book just bumps up a new one in my lifetime queue. I love learning to identify the birds of Beaufort without entering them in a bird-watching journal. I can ride my electric-assist bike minus the blood, sweat and tears of pedaling a three-speed uphill in the heat of the summer. I can add miles to my walks without having to time splits, and I can do my volunteer-work coaching third graders on the art of storytelling without correcting their spelling or grammar.

Recently, I’ve taken up watercolor painting using funny Instagram tutorials that may or may not be geared for children. Oh, such simple joy I find when first cracking open a rectangular tin of little squares of paint, dipping my brush into clear water and dabbing color and shapes all over a blank canvas.

I found this same joy taking an oil painting class from Kayla at Amidst the Alders. She’s a self-taught teacher, the best kind, and her patience and skill, the way she taught me to fold in concepts and colors and techniques, resulted in a moody marsh scene that’s now hanging in my hallway.

Here’s the point: Playing with art mediums doesn’t mean I’m now an artist, but it does give me  a new way of looking at nature. I can recognize the way the sun filters through the marsh grass, how trees cast their spooky shadows, how the sky kisses the horizon, and how a simple lemon is layered in a whole tin of colors.

The freedom to choose joy over excellence has always been available, but like that editor explained when she rejected my knitting column, that’s never been our culture’s message. Which is a pity.

So, give yourself permission to try a new thing! See if you want to take it to the next level — at your own pace, in your own time — or not. But when you try that new thing, do it like no one is watching. Choosing ‘deliberate mediocrity’ may be out of step with the self-improvement crowd, but it may also be the gateway to an adventure you’d never have taken otherwise.