How to Be Bad at Your Job

image credit: Steve Snodgrass

by Bryn Watkins

I’ve been noticing recently a pretty significant hole in the body of How-To literature available to those of us seeking advice on How-To.  While most people are willing to wax eloquent on how to be successful–at making pie crust, at hosting a dinner party, at life, take your pick–I find a shocking shortage of people willing to accommodate those of us for whom success isn’t even the goal to begin with.  Occasionally, we are not good at what we attempt.  We are, it turns out, not perfect, and more than likely actually need a game plan for graceful insufficiency rather than blasé success.  So maybe I’m writing this just for me, but nonetheless, allow me to muse for a minute on the virtues found in feeling trashy: one simply must reduce, reuse and recycle!

Reduce Yourself

I’ve found it’s easy, in the face of incompetence, be it crushing or marginal, to grow defensive, and to justify the gap between my efforts and the higher excellence to which I’d like to think I’m entitled.  I am not entitled to excellence; it’s super alright for me to be un-excellent every now and then.  It’s hard because in my workplace, where I find that gap embarrassing and onerous, my job is not a hobby I’m just testing for the first time but rather it’s that one thing I’m supposed to do well.  Whatever your supposed-to-do-well job is, be it dancing or mothering or doctoring or college-ing or whatever, I’d like to think I’m not alone in finding moments in which I fall short trying to meet demands (bad grades, crying kids, angry bosses?).  The crucial aim in those moments, for me at least, comes in an effort not to point fingers or blame my situation for my deficiency.  I am not entitled to any sort of performance from those around me and I am not entitled to compassion from those I let down.  Humility is key.  Be careful though: Self-pity has a clever way of snaking its way into a nice, well-intentioned, reduced dose of vanity.  Replace defenses–blame and self-pity and a whole heap-and-a-half of other cute devices your brain has on hand for you–with a somber and simple new motivation to do better.

Reuse the Good

That first third of my grand plan sounds so defeatist.  So I have to back up; you can’t reduce yourself too much.  I’ve found I have to actively give myself credit where credit is due.  In order to avoid sinking all Titanic-style in a spectacular and tragic fashion, I have to acknowledge that not succeeding in some areas allows for relative triumph in others.  I must actively notice when something (even and perhaps especially) minor, goes well and happens right.  Then in my blessedly humble state (see Step 1), I can pocket those triumphs and allow myself to reuse them later–separate my poor results from my good efforts, my lacking execution from my reusably good energy.  As David Crosby once advised: find a place inside to laugh; separate the wheat from the chaff.  At my workplace where I find this three-step thought process most applicable, I’ve had to condition myself to create moments of inhale-exhale-you’re-doin’-alright amid my stressed and over-magnified indignity.  Without any reusable bits and pieces of buoyancy, failure is built to sink boats.  Instead of allowing that to happen, think of the overused comparison to Thomas Edison we all enjoy: That guy tried a thousand different ways to make a lightbulb before he got it right!  And when he finally did nail it, he did so only by taking the small working bits from each previous model and pushing onward.  What a guy!  But actually.

Recycle What Is Irreducible

Ultimately, as I learn how to flounder, I need to remember that my actual worth does not shrink because I’m having a bad day. My personal sense of self-worth may waver from day to day–from moment to moment even–but in the eyes of God, my value is irreducible.  At the end of the day, I am a daughter of a Heavenly Father who loves me and I love Him.  As long as I stand as a witness of God–at all times and in all things and in all places–whatever I’m screwing up will turn out just fine.  Even in those (frequent) instances when my failure lies in doing that very thing, God will still love me and trust me to do my best (chorus: He’ll take care of the rest).  I can always fill my emptied skin right back up with a greater, wholler Spirit that will ultimately give me a better foundation to succeed in the end anyway.  And that part will always be recyclable.  Even in an effort to reduce self, be that an appropriate or an overzealous amount, the dump truck coming to chuck my nonfulfillment away will never be able to accept a rejection of those simple truths about what God thinks of it all.

Perhaps you yourself know something about disappointed bosses or bad grades or hurt friends or burnt cookies. If you need a clever stratagem to pull yourself  through stinking at _______, I’m thinking I’ve got it pretty squared.  I’m as aware as the next person that it’s not easy being green, but I think we’ll find that a willingness to be so might, in the long run, result in a lifetime of fame and fortune and good romance.

At least that’s how it turned out for Kermit.

7 Comments on “How to Be Bad at Your Job

  1. Brilliant explanation of the humility/confidence paradox. Love you!!!

  2. Love it! Your thoughts remind me of Brene Brown and the idea that failure is the problem, it’s the shame we attach to it that limits our ability to see past inevitable failure.

    Working in the startup world, I’ve come to really love the mantra “fail early and often.” There is something incredibly liberating and empowering about seeing failure as a good thing –hey, we tried, we learned, we have more data to innovate! Sometimes, what I learn best, is that I can’t actually live up to my irrationally-high expectations (and sometimes, I can even live up to my rationally realistic ones), and that’s really not such a big deal. Oh, look, I’m human….moving on 😉

    I also remind myself, that everyone’s favorite part of TED talks are the failure stories (college dropouts, getting fired, epic fails)… so, you know, just racking up “material”…lol.

  3. Bryn, my darling, you nail it every time! What a great and important lesson you have taught in this amazing treatise! Thank you for showing a bright and hopeful perspective! Love and miss you! Grandma

  4. Thank you for this delightful reminder that being human is part of each of us, and that none of us succeed all of the time.

    It occurred to me that Aspiring Women are never quite where we want to be, at least not yet, right?

  5. There is so much truth and wisdom in your post! This happens to be a lesson that life is continually giving me opportunities to learn.

    I had a college course where one topic was self-esteem. I learned that people with healthy self-esteem subconsciously rate everything they do on a scale of, for example, one to ten. The fascinating thing is that if each person were to average all their ratings together, everyone would average out to about a five. We all have stuff we do well and stuff we mess up.

    If mothering is where you tend to be hard on your yourself, a great read is “Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box.” It’s all about being a “good enough” mom.

  6. I could not love you more. This was absolutely fabulous and I absolutely loved reading it! I needed this!!! I miss you like crazy and I hope you are doing amazing you brilliant, brilliant girl!!!!!!

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