image credit: Steve Snodgrass
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!
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.
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.
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.