dirty words

She goes for the layup, the toss, the big finish, and . . . nope. Nowhere close. Once again, I have to actually walk over to the recycling bin, pick up the spaghetti box or whatever ill-aimed piece of detritus it was, and place it where I thought I had aimed it. In the recycling. Because my throw was not close. It wouldn’t even have counted in horseshoes. The sad thing is, it would not matter if I had been standing two or twenty feet from the receptacle. I would miss. Every time.

This bothers me. I feel like I should  be able to hit a two-foot wide opening from two feet away. I think this is a skill I should have mastered by this period of my life. I should not still be that girl in high school who would rather spend her time on a balance beam or a badminton court, or, best scenario, in a corner with a book, than playing a team sport. Any team sport.

But I can’t, and I am.

Then, the last time I lamented that fact, I remembered something. I have never actually aspired to be a basketball player. This is a good thing, since at 5’2″, despite American attitudes and Hollywood folklore, it is simply not possible to be anything I want to be. There are limits. Why, then, do I think I have to be able to make a basket, and why do I feel some small measure of self-worth evaporate when I can’t? Why would I ever allow the fate of a tossed milk carton to determine any part of my value, no matter how minuscule?

I believe there’s a larger question. Why do I think I have to be able to do everything and do it all well? Why is there no room for me to be “just OK” at anything? Don’t smirk. You know you have the same issue. And heaven forbid I am far less than “just OK”; perhaps I’m just plain sucky at whatever it is (like basketball).

I need to be comfortable being just OK. Even bad. I want to stop feeling inadequate when I feel incompetent. Because sometimes, we’re just going to be incompetent. We need to stop seeing that as inherently a bad word. “Incompetent” conjures up all kinds of negative images, doesn’t it? But what does it mean? To be competent, according to the dictionary, is “to have suitable or sufficient skills, experience, knowledge for some purpose.” To be incompetent, then, is not to have the skills needed for some purpose. What’s actually negative about that? Where is the moral judgment, the stamp that makes you less than you were before if you don’t possess those skills?

The problem is, we have wholesale adopted dictionary.com’s second definition, “adequate but not exceptional.” And “adequate” sounds like a dirty word to our purpose-driven society. We all want to be exceptional, and we all want to be exceptional at everything. Which, if you dig deeply enough, you have to realize is ridiculous. I will never be exceptional at basketball. Or hang gliding. Or quantum physics. And why should I be, because–here it is–I don’t want to be. I don’t like those things, and they aren’t what matters. To me.  I realize quantum physics matters greatly to some people, and I’m probably very lucky it does. But not to me.

I’m incompetent. There. It’s true. Let’s be OK with that. Let’s stop fearing being adequate. It leaves more room to pursue being exceptional in the things that really, really matter.

Photo by StuSeeeger on Flickr. Cretivecommons.org

One thought on “dirty words

  1. I heard a preacher say, “Focus your energies on what you are naturally talented for, then you can go from a 7 to a 9 or 10, rather than worrying about trying to be a 10 in stuff you weren't meant to excel at.” Wise words!


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