Discuss and debate the issues that mean the most to you.
I am bad at a lot of things. I am, in fact, bad at most things. Here is a brief list of just a few of the things at which I am bad:
1. Brushing my teeth (my technique is all wrong)
2. Flossing my teeth (I always cut myself up)
3. Singing (I have no rhythm, no range, and no ear for music)
4. Cooking (I burn things)
5. Walking my dog (She walks me, really)
6. Drawing (I have no ability to render something pretty)
7. Painting (see “Drawing”)
8. Managing my money (It all disappears into books and dog treats somehow)
9. Managing my time (I leave assignments til the last minute)
10. Managing my weight (I just really like eating things)
11. Understanding sports (I call hockey “puckball”)
12. Relationships (HAHAHAHHAHHAHAHAH oh, we do have fun)
However, even though I am bad at all of these things, I do them anyway. Really! Not necessarily professionally or anything (though I don’t see how I’d be a professional tooth-brusher, unless I were my own dental hygienist, which sounds like an actual living nightmare).
When I was growing up, I thought, “Nothing is worth doing unless you can do it perfectly.” This is a stupid bullshit devil thing to think and/or believe. I now say, “Nothing is worth doing unless you can do it mostly okay.”
I recently got a puppy. I am historically bad at keeping plants alive, so one would think I could not handle a puppy. It turns out, I can! Mostly! I found people who were good at having puppies and asked them to teach me things about having puppies. I also read things about having puppies. And as it turns out, I am not entirely awful at having a puppy! I am mostly okay at it. The puppy doesn’t give a fuck. The puppy leads a life of joy. Her dog walker recently told me that she has a good soul, and you know dog walkers know their shit.
When you are raised to be perfect and then you inevitably turn out to be so very imperfect, it is tempting to stress out over every little thing in life. The fear of failure can emotionally cripple you to the point that you do not attempt anything cool or fun or great. You lead a life that is small and unhappy, or smaller and unhappier than it would be if you attempted something fantastic. And since most of us fail at more things than we succeed, it seems entirely rational to expect that you would, in fact, fail if you made an actual attempt.
Do it anyway.
Suck at stuff. Fuck up. Fall down. Get rejected. Get shut down. Get passed over. What the fuck else are you doing with your time? Imagining potential failures? Why not turn that potential into a reality? At least you can say you went for it.
Note that I did not say, “At least you can say you tried.” As Yoda and my high school color guard coach taught us, there is no “try.” You do or do not. You go for it or you don’t. You devote yourself to the task at hand or you devote yourself to not devoting yourself to anything.
Here is a true story. I wanted to write a book about my life but I did not know if anyone would read it. So I started telling stories on little stages around the country when I had time off from my work. I pretended I was on vacation, but really I was doing research.
Sometimes five people would come and sometimes fifty people would come. I listened for when people laughed and looked for when people cried and I made notes and I kept those parts in the book proposal, which is a thing you have to make before you sell a book about your life. I did a bunch of other things so that people would (hopefully) pay (mostly) positive attention to me and be interested in this imaginary book I might write.
Eventually I told enough stories and got enough people interested that a company said, “We will publish your book,” and I said, “Oh, thank you,” and they said, “Now go write it,” and I said, “Oh, fuck.” Then I wrote it.
It was not a perfect book.
It was not everyone’s favorite book.
But I did it! I did it anyway! It was the best feeling in the world, just doing it anyway. I asked for help along the way from friends and writers and my agent and my editor and random strangers, and I cannot emphasize enough how good it is to ask for help from people who give a crap about you. If you think no one gives a crap about you, you are actually wrong. You probably just haven’t asked enough people for help yet.
“But what if I ask for help and people say no?” you may say to me.
“DO IT ANYWAY,” I definitely say to you, loudly and enthusiastically.
You must tell people exactly what you want from them if you have any hope that they will give it to you. I asked people to review my book (well, my publisher asked them to review my book) in the hopes that everyone would love it and write glowing reviews. As it turned out, there were good reviews and bad reviews and okay reviews and great reviews and awful reviews. BUT. Those good ones and great ones stood out to me, and I never would have gotten them if I had not asked people to read my book in the first place.
Even when you’re afraid—especially when you’re afraid—you’ve got to do it anyway.
I had a dream last night that I was standing by as a turtle flushed a toilet (it seemed very normal at the time). The turtle kept pushing on the handle and the toilet would give one of those half-hearted flushes. I decided I would help the turtle out and I reached over and flushed with enthusiasm. The toilet overflowed and the turtle almost drowned in toilet water and I had to save the turtle from certain shitty death and it was screaming (it could talk, did I mentioned that?), “I FEEL LIKE I’M BURNING UP!” and the turtle was very stressed out and I felt so, so bad. I was afraid I was going to get in trouble for killing the talking turtle with shitty burning toilet water. I fetched the turtle, and it was panicking, and I said to the turtle, “Just breathe. I’ll breathe with you.” And I breathed in, and so did the turtle. And I breathed out and so did the turtle. And just for a moment, in the midst of the shitty overflowed toilet water, we were calm. That’s when I woke up.
What the fuck does that mean? I have no fucking clue. Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot of things. I wasn’t even sure if I should put it in this essay, but then I thought to myself, “DO IT ANYWAY.” Did it help achieve some artistic goal? Maybe. Maybe it was a stupid digression that detracted from the main point. Maybe this whole essay is too full of swear words and colloquialisms and dumb sentimental crap that isn’t going to help anyone out anyway. Maybe I shouldn’t have written it. Maybe I shouldn’t publish it.
I’m doing it anyway.
I send you endless psychic high-fives, the embarrassing kind where you try and miss and then laugh at what a dork you are.
You are definitely a dork. So am I. Isn’t it great? The dork in me bows to the dork in you.
Get up. Or sit down. Or curl up in the fetal position. Whatever seems necessary. Consider the thing you really want to do that you have not yet done because you are afraid you would suck at it.
Now go do it anyway.
Reprinted with permission from Human Parts.