To Be Happy, Fail and Try Again

Actor Nick Offerman gave up perfection in favor of "halfway decent": leaning into the mistakes you make in pursuit of a discipline or craft that makes you happy.

Nick Offerman, actor and woodworker, grew up working on his family farm in Illinois. During this time, he learned to enrich his own life through hard work, instead of relying on modern comforts—a philosophy he continues to practice today.

In this video from BigThink, Offerman shares three lessons on happiness that have carried him through life.

1) Discover what you love

Offerman notes that for many people, it’s easy to do the minimum amount of work and still manage to have a comfortable life.

“You can cruise through school as long as you get passing grades. You can get some job with which you can cover your living expenses, and that allows you to just watch TV, play video games to amuse yourself, engage in leisure all of the time you’re not earning your living,” he says.

The style of life he describes may sound appealing to some people. But he says when he lived that way, he quickly found it depressing. He realized that simply earning money wasn’t enough to be happy — he needed to find something he truly cared about.

“There are a lot of people who don’t like their jobs, but who go home and knit, or they go home and take care of kids, or they cook, or they do any number of things with their hands,” he says. “They engage this magic tool set called the human body, and there’s so much that it can achieve that is satisfying that may never pay you a dollar, but it makes your life incredibly happy.”

2) Lean into mistakes

Offerman says he knew he had to do more than simply sit around watching movies all day. When he began woodworking, his goal wasn’t to succeed financially, but simply to improve his projects over time.

“And they were crappy, and I would make mistakes. But I pretty soon came to learn that those mistakes were some of the most valuable time I ever spent.”

He explains that mistakes are natural, and a sign that you’re making an effort to succeed.

If you make mistakes, it means you’re out there trying. It means you’re taking a swing at achieving something. And if you’re not making mistakes, it means you’ve given up…

He paraphrases a speech from author Neil Gaiman, who said: “If you make mistakes, it means you’re out there trying. It means you’re taking a swing at achieving something. And if you’re not making mistakes, it means you’ve given up…”

3) Pursue your passion, not perfection

Learning from his mistakes taught Offerman that doing something perfectly wasn’t as important as doing something in the first place.

He explains how he’s currently working on crafting ukuleles for his shop. He’s confident that when he’s finished, they will look and sound the way a ukulele should — but he reasons they may never be flawless enough to impress a great musician, and he’s ok with that.

Instead of focusing on the imperfections in his work, he looks at the bigger picture: his instruments are going to provide people with music and happiness.

“I could show you ten mistakes in every instrument and I’m not even done yet. But it doesn’t matter. When it all goes together and people look at it, they see your creation,” he says. “They’re not going to say, ‘Well, you’ve got three things wrong.’ They’re going to say, ‘Holy cow. This sounds like a ukulele. I can play several Mills Brothers songs on this thing!’”

He adds that at the end of the day, a general pursuit of trying to add things to the world that help rather than hurt is what matters most.

Video from BigThink