I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you suck.
We all suck, in fact. And we don’t just suck at mundane, negligible stuff like catching a baseball or using a curling iron. We suck mightily at things we fiercely, desperately want to be good at. Every year, we resolve to improve at these things, to arduously pull ourselves more in line with the person we imagine we could be, and every year we fall short. We suck at being better.
My friend Sarah Miller has some advice to mitigate this: We should stop trying.
“I am concerned at how hard we try when — and I hope I’m not springing anything on anyone here — we are all going to end up in the same place,” she writes. “Is it not time to ask yourself, ‘What do I keep doing that I suck at?’ and ‘Isn’t it very possible that I’m spending a lot of valuable time trying to do something that is never going to come to fruition?’” In short, isn’t it time to give up?
Giving up is easier, but it’s not just the lazy way out. It’s only when you throw out your ideal vision that you start living functionally with yourself the way you are. When you give up the idea of yourself as a runner, you might take up dance, or judo. When you give up the fantasy that you’ll clean the house every week, you might make peace with paying or trading someone else to do it, or have a talk with your partner about how you divide chores, or figure out what really needs to be done and what you can let slide. When you look at your failings realistically you can learn to love them, or work around them, or at very least mitigate their harm. When you don’t, you keep walking right into them, again and again, like a wind-up toy into a wall.
Inspired by Sarah’s essay, I asked a group of writers and friends to consider what they suck at, and challenge themselves to give up on it in the new year. Here’s what they said.
As a child, I loved Trapper Keepers so hard. During each summer’s back-to-school shopping trip I would agonize over picking one out (unicorns vs. Pegasus? Which is cooler?). Then in the week before school started I would label each folder, fill out the schedule with my classes, and lovingly look forward to the fantasy that this would be the semester that I would Become Organized. Three weeks later the Trapper Keeper would be at the bottom of my school bag, still perfect, trapped under the random clump of crumpled papers, detritus, and forgotten permission slips like always.
Productivity apps have become the Trapper Keeper of my adult life. I have a laptop. I have a smart phone. They talk to each other. I should be able to carry all the things I need to do and helpful reminders thereof on my shiny and expensive devices, yes? Furthermore, I have paid $2-$20 each for a plethora of online solutions to help manage my to do list and “life hack” my ADHD away: Evernote. Do It Tomorrow. Remember The Milk. The to-do list function in Google Calendar. HabitRPG. Those are just the ones I started and then immediately abandoned in 2014. With each abandonment or failure, I would beat myself up for two months about how terrible and lazy and disorganized I am before shelling out for the next thing that would fix my life.
This year? Fuck it. Fuck it so hard. I have one system that mostly works and that thing is physically writing down lists on paper. I make a big list at the beginning of the week. If there is something I absolutely cannot forget to do, the night before I send myself an email that says: “REMEMBER TO DO THE THING TODAY, JERK,” place a physical note to self on my laptop and/or use a Mac “sticky” to take up the entire screen with giant type, and tell my boyfriend “I need to do x tomorrow.” Every day or few days I go back and check the list and celebrate by crossing things off and sticking sparkly star stickers next to the crossed-off items. Over time, this creates a satisfying (and sparkly) visual record of the stuff I’ve done in the weird little notebooks I use, which is one of the things missing from many of the apps where crossing the thing off deletes or hides the thing.
I am not naturally organized. It’s okay. I have stickers. Stickers are cheap and they are shiny. And just think of the mountain of weird notebooks some lucky person in my family will inherit someday! — Jennifer Peepas, advice blogger at Captain Awkward
Being a woman
2015 is the year when I’ll finally give up trying so hard to be a woman — because, well, I am a woman. There’s an expectation that trans women should try to look as feminine as possible because why else would we go through all that trouble to transition if we’re not into the glamour and the makeup, right? And shouldn’t we try as much as we can to pass so people wouldn’t give us a hard time? I played this game a lot in 2014, picking out cute outfits and wearing too much makeup, and have decided it really isn’t for me.
The thing I’ve figured out is that I’m just too lazy to try to look conventionally attractive all the time, or even 95% of the time. I vastly prefer to just wake up, shower, put on comfy clothes, and leave the house. I don’t like wearing jewelry so I never do, and I see no point in wearing a dress when it’s freezing out. In other words, I suck at being a “woman” in the stereotypical sense of the word, so I’ll just stop. I think all women, and especially trans women, should feel empowered to define our own womanhood, and not rely too much on how the rest of the world would prefer us to look. — Meredith Ramirez Talusan, trans writer and critic
When I was 22 I was reasonably sure I would spend the next decade or two of my life hopping into bed with pretty girls and pretty boys. It’s just that the pretty boy I met when I was 23 was especially funny and kind and easy to live with, and when you’re in that all-devouring stage of new love, you don’t really have the time to go after new people. Twelve years later, we’re still together, and still in love, and he is still funny and kind and easy to live with. We agreed from the start that we didn’t want to get married, because we knew we were young and stupid and that probably our needs would change, so we committed instead to being honest and willing to renegotiate our relationship when it needed. Monogamy was a default condition, but not a moral imperative: it was what more or less worked, until it more or less didn’t.
There’s a weird thing about aging in an opposite-sex relationship: your bodies change in ways that are recognizable but not always shared. This past year, I turned 35 and hit the not-so-mythical-after-all sexual peak women are all told about, and I realized that I felt newly electric in my body, crushing out on people more, watching gifs of Chris Hemsworth, and generally feeling like I did when I was 16 and could barely sit still with all my hormones. So my partner and I talked about it, and we decided to officially open things up and see what happened.
So far, what happened is that my life is decidedly more awesome. Getting involved with new people has been a revelation, and not just because of sex; it’s been a reminder of what my queerness has meant to me all along, that the sexual and romantic ideals of our culture have never felt like they include me. I still love and desire my partner. But it seems that I have room in my heart and in my pants for more people, and that those people don’t displace him.
Intimacy is, for me, not about possession. It’s about desire and vulnerability and beauty. Human beings are fucking magic. I like learning them. So I cheerfully say goodbye to accidental heteronormative monogamy, and hello to new experiences and new people. You’re all so pretty. — Laura Passin, writer/professor
Not having feelings
I’m giving up numbness, and all the things I do to try and achieve it. They’ve become chores, if not compulsions, to avoid feelings and experiences. I remember there are feelings that aren’t bad ones. I want them back. — Mikki Halpin, editor
— Matt Lubchansky, artist
Toning myself down
When I was eight years old I overheard my best friend’s dad say that if I wasn’t getting picked up soon he guessed he’d have to “shoot himself in the face to get some peace and quiet.” Since that sleepover I’ve been aware that I am loud and that some people find me annoying. I’ve since gotten better at modulating the volume of my voice, but I’ve also learned that “loud and annoying” does not just denote how enthusiastically you shit-talk your friend while playing Dream Phone (it’s not my fault she sucked so much!). It’s also about being fat and having opinions and dressing in a way that only makes you more visible.
On multiple occasions I have tried, mostly unsuccessfully and to my own misery, to tone my shit down in hopes it would bring less garbage treatment and more acceptance (from strangers, family, colleagues, potential future employers). For years I’ve purchased never-worn grey blazers (‘cause I mean business!), bought silent sneakers (no floor clicking when I walk around the office DO YOU LOVE ME YET?), and held my tongue in situations where I was being straight up shit on in order to be an “easier” or “more pleasant person” to be around. The thing is, I get just as much shit thrown my way in greige camouflage as I do in cats-watching-a-horror-film print dresses, but the difference is that when I’m screaming back both from my mouth and clothing I don’t feel like a weak pushover. I’m the sartorial equivalent of a poison dart frog and you should be glad that I’m so up front about my toxicity if ingested. 2015 is the year I quit trying to curate my behavior to please people who probably mistake an oversized mug of Earl Grey tea in a knit cozy for their girlfriend. I plan to speak only through megaphones and a release a sex tape every five minutes. My body is ready. — Cynara Geissler, co-host of Fatties on Ice
Expectations for students
I suck at, and will try to stop, convincing my students that they really SHOULD read more than just the first and last chapter of books I assign and that they should study the tables and figures and not simply assume they say what the author says they say. — Jeffrey Henig, professor
In 2015, I’m giving up on Not Asking. There are lots of reasons to Not Ask — “because you’re afraid of the answer” is only the beginning of the truth. Most of the time, I find myself Not Asking because I don’t want my request to disappoint the other person, or obligate them, or implicate them. I want to imagine, and for everyone else to imagine, that I’m independent, that I’m flexible, that I want and need for nothing — not a favor, not a job, not time on my own, not recognition, and certainly not money or love. Nothing big — because how deprived a creature would you have to be to need something so great, like forgiveness? — and nothing small — because how petty a person would you have to be to need to request a piddling accommodation, like a half hour alone? For most of my life, I’ve been so good at Not Asking, at acting as if I couldn’t possibly need or want anything from another person, that I’ve fooled the people around me for just long enough to make them party to the inevitable disaster when I crash and burn. No more. Another success at Not Asking like that could ruin me. — Tim Carmody, writer
I suck at writing for the internet. Like: I suck at pitching ideas in general, but more specifically, I suck at even having ideas in the first place.
The internet rewards writers who possess the ability to quickly turn their strongly-held opinions into posts and articles. Something happens, people have opinions about it, they post their articles about it, links get tweeted about and clicked, the internet moves on to something else, and 6 months later you get your $100. I am TERRIBLE at having immediate opinions about things. It’s not until long after the internet has moved on from caring about something that I’m like: OK, here’s what I think about this thing that happened and why it matters or doesn’t matter.
I know a lot of people who are super good at this (some of my favorite writers!) but I am not one of them. This has stressed me out for years, and even up through 2014 I felt like I wanted to get better at it somehow.
But now I’m like: Oh well. I’m going to write the things I want to write, and probably refrain from having quick and strongly held opinions on the internet, and probably this will mean my name appears in fewer bylines, but in general I’ll be happier with my overall stress level? So it’s probably the way to go. — Kevin Fanning, writer
Wearing colors (and eating neatly)
Last year around this time, I made a resolution to wear more color. My motivations were partly political; the apocryphal yet omnipresent advice that black is slimming made me want to defiantly wear jewel tones. I felt like a way to signal confidence and satisfaction with my body. I was also worried that wearing all black made me look like I hadn’t noticed the 90s were over. As resolutions go, this one was pretty successful. My work situation actually justified a whole new professional wardrobe, so over the course of the year I acquired six every-day dresses and two party dresses in a nice spectrum of hues. I got a lot of compliments.
The problem was, I had to give away the bottle green dress after only wearing it twice, because I dropped a piece of pasta primavera on it and left a permanent stain. I wasted a lot of hours of my life googling ways to remove or disguise olive oil stains, but ultimately concluded it was a lost cause. The loss of the bottle green left me permanently on edge in my other new clothes. Eating cannot be avoided, nor can it be done naked at work (at least not where I work). I have taken steps to become a tidier eater, and got an old hoodie to wear when eating lunch at my desk, but at some point I realized this was taking up a lot of time and mental energy. Instead of making me more confident, the dresses were demanding my attention all the time. I found myself reaching more and more often for my uninteresting but unimpeachable outfit of black pencil skirt, black leggings, and black v-neck top. It was effortless. And I loved how I looked.
The last straw came when I asked a friend what she thought of my carrying a black apron around in my lunch box that I could put on for working lunches. I said I could explain to anyone I had to impress that the apron cost $3 (more wasted hours pricing aprons) but that the dress I risked splashing salad dressing on it cost $50. My friend gently suggested that I had lost my mind.
As of this writing I am gradually acquiring a new professional wardrobe consisting of six repetitions of the same black pencil skirt, black leggings, and black v-neck. I’m not going so far as to make a resolution out of it — some days I might just feel like wearing the royal blue skater dress, and that’s just fine. But I am giving up on this particular political statement. Black clothing is wonderful, the 90s are back anyway, and feeling like myself is a good look on me. — Anna Mirer, MD/Ph.D. student
This year I’m going to recognize that I suck at being social. It’s really easy, sitting in my office at noon on a Wednesday, to get excited about seeing people I love and make enthusiastic noises about coming to everything I’m invited to. But by the time I have to leave the office or my apartment, there’s a solid chance I’ll be looking for excuses not to see anyone. It sucks to choose between resenting myself and others, or flaking out. So this year I’m going to start flaking out in advance by making realistic promises about when I can and can’t see people. — Dara Lind, writer at Vox
I worry. All the time. About important things—money, health, the people I love—but mostly about the weather or what I’ll cook for dinner. This kind of low-level worrying isn’t enough to spill into full blown anxiety, although I do experience that from time to time. I am, in other words, good at worrying. But I am appalling at giving it up. When I’ve tried periodically to think myself out of worrying, I’ve only become more worried: worried that I can’t stop worrying. Over the past year, I’ve been experimenting with not worrying about worrying. About accepting that I worry, and that this is as much of a feature of me being me as is the pile of books on my bedside table, the endless of cups of tea I drink, and my hatred of motorbikes. And I’ve found a strange calm in coming to terms with living with the strange chatter of worry that exists always on the edges of my thoughts. So for 2015, I’ve given up on not worrying. —Sarah Emily Duff, researcher and writer
I’m usually pretty good at addressing my suckitude. I suck at playing the piano, but I’m starting lessons soon. I suck at doing laundry, so I outsource to a wash-n-fold near my apartment. But really, more than anything, I suck at impulse control. This plays out in a lot of ways in my life, mostly destructive ones, and a part of me wants to get better at declining a third drink or putting the umpteenth black crewneck sweater back on the rack or walking away from an open bag of potato chips. But an even bigger part of me is like, fuck it, make yourself happy while you can. That bigger part of me is wrong. But I have yet to figure out how to let it win. — Helen Rosner, features editor at Eater
Honestly I’d like to drop most of the weird compulsive ways I try to optimize my life. Even though I’m kind of an aimless slob most of the time, I have the internal wiring of a type A personality, but what does it add up to? Maybe if I had clean floors and children who could speak Russian and tap dance and play the violin, it would make sense that I’m constantly strategizing about how to make my life better. If I were a tiny bit organized, if I were neatly dressed — or just, say, showered — then maybe it would make sense that I’m always trying to be more efficient, more professional, more successful, less scattered and slipshod about everything. Instead, I’m like a dirty caveman at a Tony Robbins seminar. What am I even trying to do? I’m an idiotic combination of sloppy, disorganized, high-strung, and ambitious.
And even all of that is fine, really. Because fuck it, I’m pretty happy with my life, even if I am an enormous clown with delusions of grandeur, covered in dust bunnies and dog hair. That said, though, when I look at the constant effort to progress, to be more calm and loving, to get my shit together, to write more, to save more money, to conquer the universe, I can’t help but see a kernel of ego-driven delusion at the center of it. Even when I tell myself, “You are here. You will remain just like this, distracted and disheveled and surrounded by filth. Try to savor it,” there’s still this image in my mind of MYSELF at the center, learning the art of staying present in spite of her own mediocrity. So mostly what I’d like is to stop making myself the hero or the failure of the story. I’d like to disappear off the page, so there’s more room for other people. I’d like to make more room for the inherent beauty (or even the inherent ugliness!) of any given moment to reveal itself. — Heather Havrilesky, Ask Polly columnist at New York Magazine’s The Cut