You Don’t Have to Be Good At Everything
Hello friends, perfectionists, and middling Marjories,
We are here today to reflect upon the fact that individualism (capitalism?) has tricked us into believing that we must be good at everything all the time! Individualism ruins a lot of things, but this is one of those insidious things that we often pick up when we’re quite young.
This is frequently visited upon children in school, who are excoriated for their incapacity to do long division, draw a lizard, and do 30 sit-ups with equal capacity and brevity.
Many of us do not unlearn this early coaching, and instead shame ourselves for our incapacity to do all things perfectly.
The option exists to become acquainted with our nature, and support ourselves to build skills in things that don’t come naturally. However, often we err on the side of perfectionism and bullying ourselves.
What Do You Mean When You Say Get Better
Something I see a lot in people, especially people in my practice who are struggling, is the idea of if you’re going to ‘get better.’ This is a pretty vague statement.
I usually ask for clarification, which some folks have been able to sift out their specific definitions of improvement or goals they want to work toward.
But since we’re good at shaming ourselves, and less skilled at responding to our growth areas with nuance and care, most of us have less experience specifying how we want our lives to look different. (aside from “this shit show I’m in charge of, please fix it”)
I often assume that for many people ‘getting better’ means to ‘experience less self-doubt’ or ‘manage the symptoms of my anxiety and depression in ways that it is less disruptive in my life’ or ‘attend to the ways my trauma response is overactivated in circumstances when I am confident that I am not physically or emotionally unsafe.’
Also to be clear- it does not make you a ‘better’ person to be less anxious, but it is usually more comfortable and can make life simpler.
Forward Movement Is Slow
Most folks who find themselves in a down-and-out period usually are great at tracking that things are not going well in a few different areas of their lives.
Mainly, this looks like a breakdown in: dating, creative life, social relationships, eating regular meals (and cooking, if this is something they regularly commit to), maintaining a movement practice, maintaining job performance & duties, life maintenance (paying bills, doing laundry, getting the oil changed in your car, buying groceries).
Not Everything Is Important At the Same Time
That said, nobody ever died from not dating, and if you eat take-out for an entire year, then it sounds like that year you ate. Good job eating dinner, you.
Most of us struggle to maintain all of these different life arenas at any given time- and some things are never important to us in the first place.
Usually these are all things that could stand to be maintained- but they require lots of different skills and schedules.
Also, it is totally fine to specialize and outsource! You do not need to be good at everything!
As an adult I have consistently read books and made a lot of meals at home (because I am cheap, and I like those things), but I have never been on any kind of intramural sports teams and I consistently forget where I parked my car.
You may be great at staying in touch with friends and scheduling activities and maintaining a movement, but your laundry piles may reach the ceiling by the time you get around to it. That’s fine! Hit the laundromat (the one with the 4-load washers, those are AMAZING) once a month, and you’re back to clean laundry land with very little trouble.
If you are a person whose overall life maintenance is pretty steady- you pay your bills, you go the gym, you eat a salad sometimes, your friends have never sent out a search party because you haven’t texted anyone back in a month- then you may experience similar overwhelm when you try to integrate a new habit or make a significant change.
The Montage Is Not Real
We are culturally very invested in the idea of rapid transformation. There is a cool montage with fun music that makes all the boring practicing and slow parts go fast. The tedious and present reality that most change takes steady and persistent movement forward, one day at a time, is what most of us live with.
There are some people out there that can quit smoking, go vegan, stop watching TV, and go to graduate school for reiki healing all at the same time. Good for them!
That said, you are probably a regular sort of person, who does change the regular way, not the sexy TV way. I’m sorry if that news feels surprising or unpleasant.
That said, that means you have a great deal of potential to have a different kind of life.
You do not need to be good at everything at once. You do not need to be good at everything, ever.
You may not become a marathon runner or an oil painter (though by all means, go for a run or paint a picture if you want to).
The pleasures you will acquire from movement practice and creative work will be generative whether or not you achieve a far-flung and aspirational goal.
Practice Takes Practice
Accept that your progress will be incremental. It is nonetheless a worthwhile pursuit.
Most of us get better at things by practicing. You will achieve great things by practicing.
You cannot practice everything at once. You cannot simultaneously have eight specialties- that’s not how life works.
Anyone who appears to have this going on has either been in their field for several years, is engaging things in a shallow way, or has several support staff that assist them in managing the less-than-sexy parts.
If you are trying to do your own work and cover your own ass, you will probably need to engage the less than sexy parts.
Most people who are successful in multiple areas in their lives have strong support networks (friends, family, nannies, an army of people doing gigs that drop off their groceries or run things to the dump for them).
If you are struggling to manage everything on your own, it’s because managing things on your own is not how most human beings thrive. Total autonomy is an illusion, whether you have a strong support network or a lot of money.
By all means- have your space and set some boundaries and be your own person. Keep on rocking in the free world. But you will not succeed in every life area at once.
We Build Momentum Slowly
Most people manage life by maintaining momentum. They get a routine down related to exercise, or grocery shopping, or returning text messages.
If you have dropped all your habits, or are trying to cultivate new ones- consider that you can build momentum slowly- but it’s not fair for your life to go from 0 to 60 in two weeks flat. That’s not how we work and not how change works.
So since we’ve burst your bubble- go a little easier on yourself. Do one thing at a time until you really know what you’re doing, and add to it once you’ve settled in. Don’t be afraid to go back to the basics- that’s how we stay good at the things we do.
Give me a call if you keep charging at the horizon and need help reminding yourself that things take time.
About the Author
Maria Turner-Carney has a BA in media studies and queer identity development from Fairhaven College. She received her Master’s in Social Work with a focus in Mental Health from the University of Washington. Her work background includes LGBTQ mental health; work in the anti-violence movement; dating and domestic violence; harm-reduction; mental health case management; chronic mental illness; intergenerational relationships; and managing chronic health conditions. Her practice is located in Seattle, WA, which you can book here. You can follow her on Instagram here. This article was originally posted in Maria’s blog.