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The fear of doing something badly can affect more than just our choice of pastimes. My friend Jenny remembers that before she decided to have a child, she was deeply afraid of being a bad mother. Off-key sonatas will be forgotten, but the mistakes we make with our children threaten to haunt us our entire lives. It was only when she got comfortable with the idea that she would certainly do many, many things wrong as a mother that she was able to go ahead and get pregnant. "The thing about doing things badly is that if you keep doing them, sometimes you get better," she says, as we walk down a tree-lined street toward the pizza parlor, her daughter screeching happily on Rollerblades ahead of us.

Alas, I fear that no amount of practice will improve my singing. "I want to tell you something but I don't want you to be offended," my fiancé said several months ago as we washed the dinner dishes and I crooned along to Ella Fitzgerald. "The thing I love about you is that your singing is so wretched but you do it anyway." His backhanded compliment confirmed not only why I'm marrying him but a truth I had long suspected: The things we do badly set us apart; what we consider our failures have a surprising ability to charm. We think we have to be perfect for other people to love us, when in fact the opposite is true. We are loved for our imperfections—for our funny faces and walks and dances and songs.

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