Why We All Need to Learn to Suck at Life More

The most important lesson we can learn is how to cope with sucking at life.

No, I’m not on hallucinogenics and neither have I turned in my overachiever badge to slackers anonymous. I mean this whole-heartedly. Every single person has to learn how to cope with failure; not winning every game; not passing a test; getting passed over for a promotion; being lectured for not doing a great job at work; being dumped; and embracing that we are incapable of perfection. Failure, by its very existence is as important to life as success, for without one, the other means nothing.

People who have never been allowed to fail or hit rock bottom are patently uninteresting and generally dickish people. They’re the ones who belligerently think they have a right to your time, body, money, or grades. They are are told “No,” and think that it’s merely opening negotiations. There’s generally a lot of moaning that they deserve better. Better than who? Everyone else?

And from time to time, I’ve been this person, and if your ego is even half the size as mine or you’re Type- A as well, you probably have, too. I was the kid who wanted to shred participation ribbons to pieces because they didn’t count if everyone got one. I’m the student whose one semester not on the Dean’s List haunts me to this day. If I didn’t get something that I thought I deserveda spot in a top college, a quick hire after graduation, the life I thought I wantedit was so easy to blame someone else. That teacher who hated me, an illness that took me out of class, or the recession was all far more at fault than I ever could be. I was a good person who made good grades and followed the right steps to get ahead, and therefore the fact that sometimes shit happens and it doesn’t work out, or even more improbable that perhaps I hadn’t done enough, couldn’t possibly be the reason.

That all changed when I fell flat on my ass three separate times. Like rock-bottom-and-no-one-can-get-me-out-of-this-but-myself flat. My senior year of college I became aware a month prior to graduation that I might not graduate because I had a F in Latin. Yes, the straight-A student who didn’t bother to go to class and thought she could call that shit in was going to fail a 202 level class in a language she took all through high school. I remember walking through campus after getting that bomb dropped on me and thinking,

“Sorry, Mom and Dad, you’re going to have to pay for an extra semester. Cancel the parties, rescind the graduation announcements, and tell everyone that I HAVE BROUGHT SHAME AND DISHONOR UPON MY FAMILY.”

I cried, wailed, despaired. I blamed the stupid horrible rotten no-good unfair teacher. I begged and pleaded and hyperventilated to the professor begging for a chance to fix it. I definitely made up some cock-and-bull story to try and lie my way out of it. I was entirely unequipped to handle this level of suckage. Finally I shut up, went to class, and memorized 20 chapters of Hercules in Latin, and scraped a 90 that brought my grade to a passing D. Hello graduation, goodbye perfect GPA.

The second time was barely a few months after the Great Latin Debacle of 2008. Yeah, notice that date stamp? That’s when I graduated, with (mostly) good grades and absolutely no idea what to do with a degree in international relations and political philosophy. I’d learned for the sake of learning, surely that counted for something right? I just had to say, “Hey world, I’m here, feel free to hire me now,” right?

Yeah, all you new grads are laughing your ass off right now, aren’t you? Well, you should, because I was wrong. Dead wrong, actually, and had a year of temp jobs, house sitting and days on end of sending countless resumes that basically said, “I’m smart, OK, hire me.” I had my dad saying, “Getting a job just isn’t that hard. Why don’t you have one yet?” I knew my parents were wondering what they’d wasted thousands upon thousands of dollars on with my education, and everyone who’d toasted me for having such potential in May were wondering when that was going to be put to use. It wasn’t until I let go of the fact that my prized bachelor’s degree should’ve gotten me a supreme job and realized I needed to shut up, take any job I could, and go back to school for a degree that could get me hired, that things finally started looking up. But it doesn’t mean I wasn’t still a receptionist for the first year and half of my career. Turns out no one is too good for admin work, no matter what your college career service says.

Fast forward a few years and a promotion into a career. Add in some accolades for being super awesome at your job, a few luxury purchases, and a year of Christmas presents in which I gave people actually good gifts. I was an adult! I had a job and yes, I did just splurge on that cute new cardigan, thank you for asking. I was  multitasking full-time job/grad-school pro, and kicking ass at both. Then suddenly it was. “Oh sweet Jesus, what do you mean you’re letting me go? But I did everything right, I had good reviews, and gosh darnit, people like me! And how am I going to pay my bills? You can’t do this!”

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Yes, I was let go for no other reason than being in the most easily sacrificed position in the team. The boss and various other co-workers went with me, as HR tried to tell me it wasn’t personal. Well let me tell you, it may not have been for them, but for the girl who thought she’d finally gotten her shit together to have to admit to failing at being an adult, it was life-altering. I needed justifications and answers and none were forthcoming. I oscillated between crushing depression and psychotic outrage, and then desperately trying to play it off as no big deal. To this day, even two jobs later and a much bigger bank account, I still panic over the idea of being let go.

It’s because of going through these experiences, that I fear for people who have all of life’s obstacles removed for them. When the inevitable time comes that they do fail, they have no foundation or ability to handle the situation. If you’ve been sheltered from the unfortunate fact that the world is a horribly unfair place more often than not, then you’re going to go through life with a massive and perhaps unjustified ego. You’re going to be unable to recognize anyone else’s point of view or realize that sometimes your success has been a rolling tide of good fortune and privilege. I know mine certainly has been.

Every time I sucked so terribly at life; every time I failed to succeed at doing the same thing that people all over the world do every day—graduate, get jobs, keep jobsI became a better person. I learned that the way I saw the world was but one view through a tiny refractive lens, and that everyone else was looking at it through their own odd angle. It made me a little less judgmental toward people who haven’t figured everything out yet and don’t always make the right decisions. It made me realize that I don’t have all the answers, I can’t have it all figured out, and I never will. As new daily disasters roll in, I’m still not great at handling them (stress, thy name is Type-A), but I do have an unshakable foundation and trust in myself to know that I can get through it. I have finally understood that the only thing I deserve in this world is what I work for (and you know, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) and that even that isn’t guaranteed.

So do yourself a favor, go suck really hard at something. Lose a game. Admit that you screwed up something at work. Tell an anecdote at happy hour about something other than that time you were super awesome and instead about when you were trying to get a date and had a booger stuck to your forehead. Try being a fallible person every once in a while. You might sleep better.

Or maybe people will want to hit you in the face a little less.

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