You Must Be Good at Something

The freedom to be bad at almost everything.

We are not skiers. Properly speaking, my children and I aren’t even outdoorsy people. We’re not instinctively called to the great outdoors as the means to exercise and recreate and restore. Nature is nice, sometimes. More often, Nature is unpredictable and requires preparation if one hopes to interact with Her successfully. She can be a lot of work. That’s all I’m saying.

Despite my chilly relationship with The Mother, I felt we should mix things up on the vacation front this year. Given my limited experience with skiing, most of it torturously un-fun, I might have been forgiven for wanting to avoid the enterprise altogether. But I like to style myself as open-minded. There could be a chance that my unsporty children could take to the slopes and totally shred. I was willing to entertain the possibility.

Plans were made, extraordinary funds spent. As it would happen, the snow conditions out west this year were the worst in forty years. What are the odds? But we spent money. We were committed. Our first day, we made our way up to the slopes, where my husband and I deposited the children in snowboarding school. My husband was also scheduled for lessons. I hadn’t signed up. I think instinctively I knew what was going to transpire, and I didn’t want to waste the money.

Yes, I bailed. Didn’t even make it onto the chair lift. I knew as surely as I know that I am not an outdoorsy person that going up on the mountain would be irresponsible, if not downright hazardous, both for me as well as any unfortunate souls who might encounter me. I was back down to the hotel in a matter of minutes.

The staff at the suiting-up area were busy getting other guests ready for their assault on the slopes, and I hoped I could offload my equipment with the minimum of attention.

“Back already?” chirped a millennial employee.

Own your shit.

“Yeah, just wasn’t for me.”

“Oh well,” she replied. “You must be good at something.”

My reflexive response, which I managed not to verbalize, was to assert, “Damn right! So many things! Things like, uh…” Even in the privacy of my own head, I was stumped to come up with resume-ready verbiage to reinforce my assertion.

What am I good at? The inverse of owning your shit is owning your gifts. Back in the day, when I was at pains to concoct compelling sales pitches to obtain employment, there were catch phrases and industry-specific terms that were approved signifiers for particular positions. You were expected to use them and to have actual expertise in them. I like to think that there was limited fiction at work in this enterprise, but embellishment is an expected element in any story we choose to tell.

A Ricky Gervais vehicle from a few years ago, The Invention of Lying, touched amusingly on the concept of lying as a means of creating opportunities where none could otherwise exist; though the anarchic possibilities of this premise were never played out to my satisfaction, it was eye-opening to consider how much credence we give to our own fictions about ourselves.

What if there were no fiction involved when it comes to representing ourselves to the world?

“I hate having to plan my workouts six months in advance of a marathon, but hearing how cool it is that I suffer in the name of ‘health’ and ‘goal-setting’ makes my life feel less empty.”

“I’d rather wear clothes that are expressive and fun, but I choose all black because I’ve been told it makes me look thin and chic, and that’s the easiest way to get respect and attention.”

“Being a parent is a twenty-year exercise in feeling like a failure and a fraud, but of course there’s no greater gift I could’ve given myself.”

I wish we could respect our humanity more by recognizing all the ways we choose to quantify, and therefore limit, the breadth and depth of our experience. Let there be commonality built around the mystery, not the data on your FitBit.

But then what would we talk about over dinner?

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