Thought Catalog

On The Merits of Sucking

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Hi, my name is Tereza and I suck at things. In fact, it could almost be said that I excel at sucking at things. My suckiness is interdisciplinary and not limited to a particular field or area. It ranges in severity from dire (volleyball, figure drawing, dealing with bureaucracy) to mildly inconvenient and largely inconsequential (making toast, remembering where I put my keys or bicycle). Sometimes this provides comic relief and I have fun laughing at my failures, large and small, but other times it’s frustrating and I wonder if I’m the only one who can’t seem to remember my postal code. Either way, every day I manage to find new things to be bad at in novel and exciting ways.

Moreover, there are very few, if any, things that I am amazingly good at. The three years I’ve spent studying theoretical math have confirmed that I am not abjectly terrible at it (I haven’t failed out yet), but I have classmates for whom figures in n-space make beautiful sense, for whom twenty-line proofs flow with natural grace, who find the entire thing an intricate mosaic of poetic logic. Though I too once cried a little when my three-page proof crystallized elegantly into place, when it comes down to it I am not one of them. I find math beautiful, but the assignments are difficult and for the most part, I grind gears and google things and muddle along, occasionally getting remarks like “NO!” from my TA in red pen. I ‘m a volunteer bike mechanic, and last week when helping someone fix a bottom bracket, I more or less told them to get one of the men to help because I had no idea. I’ve climbed for years and I’m still unlikely to wow anyone with my graceful movements or sinewy biceps. I like to write and take photographs, but so does every other twentysomething sitting at this cafe with a laptop, and many of them have been doing it longer than me and can turn a phrase or find an angle far better than I ever will. I could find plenty of similar examples, but suffice it to say that in short, my skills are on the whole unremarkable.

An adolescence spent in American public school, where it seemed that every child was a hero and small achievements were rewarded with conspicuous applause, did not encourage statements like, “I suck at this.” Instead, Technicolor posters saying things like “If you can dream it, you can do it!” and “You’re a star!” adorned the walls of my classrooms until the age of seventeen. During my entire time in America, I was always pushed to “Be my very best” and “Achieve Great Things!” and occasionally heard things like “Second place is just first loser!” In third grade, I told my neighbor who was on the community swim team with me that she probably wasn’t going to the Olympics, and she said I was rude and mean and that she could be anything she wanted. A whole lot of us received “Awards for Excellence” that were rather vague and possibly, depending on your definition of excellence, unfounded. Telling someone they were bad at something was the utmost taboo–you could maim their self-esteem! Instead of saying something so abhorrent, standards were lowered and small things were celebrated. You graduated public high school? Amazing! You were accepted into some sort of institution of higher learning? Even better!

Allow me to rebel churlishly against all this positivity and say that no, in fact, I am not “excellent.” I may not even be good. I certainly have friends who objectively are–neurological savants, professional kayakers, charismatic musicians–but perhaps I myself am not. And, furthermore, that it doesn’t matter. If I limited my activities to things I am very good at, I would spend my time drinking tea and having feelings, and the enjoyment potential of both of those is limited. Meanwhile, doing things the way I’ve always done them–somewhat badly–provides at the very least an interesting diversion and a continuous gentle reminder not to have too much of an ego about it all. It’s also usually really fun. After considerable deliberation, I’ve come to the groundbreaking, earth-shattering, shocking conclusion that the world will keep spinning whether or not I have an innate understanding of advanced calculus.

As is usually the case with my earth-shattering revelations, they have been made before. In the Czech Republic, there is a saying: “Don’t worry, you’ll never be the best.” Russians have it too, but all my American friends either laughed at it or were confused by it when I told them. It’s worded in an odd way, but it’s just a reminder to bear in mind what we’ve always known. The world is wide and almost everyone is competent enough to do something they deem worthwhile in it, and furthermore, we have absolute freedom in what we choose to deem worthwhile. This is its own can of worms, and not one that as a hapless twenty-year-old I’m prepared to tackle at this very moment, but that’s beside the point. The American go-getter attitude has an ugly, egocentric side, and one of the positives of sucking at things is that you get to step away from it, not define yourself by your successes. You don’t need a gold star, and perhaps more fundamentally, gold stars are meaningless.

Let’s all go suck at something. The real problem comes when it becomes hard to find the motivation or courage to keep doing so. If anyone has an answer to that one, feel free to let me know. TC mark

image – Tinou Bao
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More From Thought Catalog

  • Derpina

    This was brilliant. I’m awful at everything from badminton to making pancakes, from PreCalculus to spelling, from coloring inside the lines to putting together Ikea furniture. I’m a failure of a human being, thank you for reminding me that that’s okay as long as I’m never asked to operate construction equipment on a busy streetcorner.

  • S.H.

    Why isn’t this an article on oral sex? Anywaysss… in all seriousness, you did—in some deluded way—make me feel better about myself!

  • Anonymous

    “In the Czech Republic, there is a saying: “Don’t worry, you’ll never be the best.” Russians have it too”

    That must be where my mom got it from.

  • ASRAD123

    There are a lot of times when I feel incompetent so this article made me feel a little better. p.s you have a cool last name.

  • Alex

    I really enjoyed this. Growing up, my parents insisted I was great at things that I sucked at (math, science, piano, etc). I was pretty OK at some things (writing, balancing on curbs) but they insisted that I didn’t suck at those other things, I just wasn’t TRYING hard enough. The concept that I might just suck was unfathomable. Even now they think that if I work hard I can achieve anything. I don’t know man, North American society is weird. Or my parents are just obnoxious.

    • Cimmonym

      Worst of all, that makes people feel that if they aren’t the best at everything and a superstar and all, then it’s their fault.  And that feels BAD.

      Thanks for the article.  You didn’t suck at writing this article.

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    “If I limited my activities to things I am very good at, I would spend my time drinking tea and having feelings, and the enjoyment potential of both of those is limited.” — Had a much-needed laugh after a day of realizing how bad I suck. Thanks, man.

  • FangsFoo

    ” In the Czech Republic, there is a saying: “Don’t worry, you’ll never be
    the best.” Russians have it too, but all my American friends either
    laughed at it or were confused by it when I told them.”

    Actually there’s a very popular expression in English – “No matter how smart you are there’s always someone smarter.” That’s just one off the top of my head, I’m sure there are many others.

    Your weird anti-American xenophilia bias is showing.

    • Guesty

      what

      seems more like your weird xenophobia bias is showing

      • FangsFoo

        “oh yeah well you’re probably the opposite of whatever you accused that guy of double times infinite no takesies backsies”

  • Virginia

    Wait, was it me who wrote this?

  • Heather Inc

    An article based on the last paragraph would be a lot more interesting.

  • Stefan

    eh, I think this missed the mark of “you will not be the best; keep trying” and wound up back in a place similar to those grade school “you’re a star!” sentiments with its “being bad at toast is just a quirky character trait” set-up. I don’t think you can claim to churlishly go against middle-school positivity posters when your whole message is one of “quirky” optimism. I’m just seeing apathy.

  • Asdf

    I’m so incompetent that my organs don’t even know what to do. 

    My stomach thinks it’s my brain, so I’m controlled by silly impulses for food. 

    My lungs think they’re my stomach, so whenever I eat, it goes down the “wrong pipe” and ends up being coughed back up.

    My brain thinks it’s my heart, so I’ve no discernible emotions.

    My heart think it’s my kidneys, so I urinate blood.

  • http://twitter.com/zachyack Zach Payne

    This was pretty inspiring. Thank you :)

  • Sarah Sully

    I was really inspired by this article! I have always been a “go-getter” and being among large groups of overly ambitious/intelligent people can get me down as I constantly try to compare myself. We have been constantly told in society that we must be great at something to be fulfilled. The acceptance of the inability to be “great” at something in this article is very liberating! Thank you! 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6IFPDSFKEQJE2ZPP3ASE35MRL4 Laura

    FINALLY. Thanks for having the balls to admit you suck. I suck at everything, too. People think I’m being a negative nancy but I’m just being honest. I justify it by saying I’m really good at being really bad at things. You rule.

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