Journal of the Plague Year 2020: Sucking with Grace and Courage

So, still recovering from last night’s Lamp Rewiring Incident. I can’t help but notice the lingering, physical sense of shame and disgust associated with forcing myself to stick with the task. My body, mind and spirit would all strongly prefer not to rewire anymore lamps. It’s some combination of a lifetime of humiliations and failing to meet a rigid internal standard.

So I came up with a New Year’s Resolution. In 2021, I want to get comfortable with sucking at things I wish I were good at.

You notice I don’t say, I want to suck at things — lots of them. That’s too easy. I already suck at a broad range of human activities — everything from promoting myself on social media to waiting patiently for equipment to boot up to reliably knowing when to shut up and listen. In The Magnificent Five, I wrote a catalog of my hero’s domestic shortcomings (“Inglorion is a picky eater, a banker hog, volatile, chatty, easily bored, and accustomed to having his own way …. Most of the time, [he] is hopelessly messy. Worse yet, he fails to see dirt, and if it is pointed out, he doesn’t regard it as his responsibility … [He] reads several books at once, dog-ears all of them, and writes extensive marginalia in a scrawling, blotted hand.” And so on). It was easy to generate. I just channeled the just complaints of every roommate and lover I’ve ever had. None of these shortcomings really bothers me; I sincerely regard them as harmless quirks, or believe they are tied to a quality that serves me well in the correct context.

No, I’m thinking about stuff that’s tied to my self-concept, that I feel I ought to be good at. I want to get comfortable with sucking at those things. Not as a way of persuading myself to try so that I can become quite adept and dazzle onlookers. Not in a sour-grapes kind of way. (“What kind of asshole is really good at Twitter?”) Not so that I don’t have to try at all. (“I don’t make and break connections. I have people who do that for me.”)

Just this: I want to acknowledge that I’m genuinely bad at some things, and may never be more than barely competent. If there’s no one else around, and no one can be hired, ordered, cajoled or trained, sure, I’ll calibrate the pots on your load stand. But I’m really your last choice for that job. I’m also a subpar driver, and I’m deeply uninterested in computer hardware, software and firmware.

It’s about leadership, you see. I don’t know a lot about the subject, but I’ve learned two important facts.

First, people’s abilities vary. Most people are good enough at a given task to muddle through, but in a critical situation, “good enough” doesn’t cut it. It’s all very well to be encouraging, but sometimes you just have to say, I won’t have that guy on my flight line. Or, I really suck at this. Let’s get someone over here who knows what they’re doing. Not everybody has to do every job. In fact, anyone who could would be a really irritating fellow, destined to die alone and friendless, though in well-maintained, tastefully appointed surroundings.

Which leads me to my next point. One person’s weakness is another person’s opportunity to shine. I genuinely love finding and highlighting people who can do things I can’t do. I want to lean into that — not just hoping to learn from others, but letting them shine without thinking, Someday I’ll be able to do that.

So, yeah. In 2021 I want to model sucking with grace and courage. I can do something even though I suck at it; I can admit that I suck and hand the job over to someone else. By doing so, I can show people around me that it’s okay to suck and be vulnerable, and that you can trust the people around you to step up.

Love,

Alexander

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