“I used to think pretending not to try was the same thing as being humble.”
“Your hair looks cute today.”
“Oh thanks, I haven’t done anything to it.”
“I really enjoyed that piece you wrote.”
"Thanks, I never post and haven’t done any marketing for my blog, but I’m glad you and my mom read it.”
“How do you stay thin after having three children?”
“Oh, you know, I never sit down; I’m always chasing them.
“Thank you for making us dinner; we really enjoyed it.”
“Oh, it was nothing.”
The motivations behind all these half-truths are well intended; probably, I am uncomfortable with the type of the attention I am receiving, likely I didn’t know what to say. But it’s not just that.
I’ve gotten to know myself a lot better, but change is slow and doesn’t often happen on its own. I’m not yet sure of all the reasons I try not to try, but one of them, is probably that if I’ve convinced myself and others that I achieved some measure of success without trying, it will somehow insulate me from failure. If I fail, I can say, “Well, I wasn’t really trying anyway.”
I remember reading there was, in the 19th century, a focus on facility, and how it was different than faculty. Faculty was what you could do, your talents and abilities, and facility was making it look easy. There was an implied need for women then to make it look to others, men especially, as if they hadn't tried. Of course, now, we'd say this is stupid and unnecessary. But don't we still do it?
The potential repercussions to that flawed thinking are major. If I don’t apply myself and don’t try, and I do attain some level of success, I’m still cheating myself out of the full experience of the reward and growth that comes with determination and hard work. And, perhaps most importantly, I’m cheating others out of the chance to believe that they can do whatever it is I’ve done too.
On the day you compliment my hair, it’s a near certainty that I made an effort.
Despite not yet becoming as intentional as I’d like with my blog, I’m up between 5:00 and 5:30 five days per week writing and researching for a book I’m working on. That hasn’t always been the reason, but these days, that’s why I don’t post very often.
Though there may be some measure of natural body type involved, I stay thin because I eat a dairy-free, gluten-free, real food diet that seems to work best for my body, at least right now. It costs me a fortune, and I spend a large chunk of every day in the kitchen. It’s not an accident. Not satisfied with my lack of discipline after hearing myself joke about running “only if someone were chasing me,” I recently started running 3-4 times per week and doing yoga on a more consistent basis. Because not making an effort was not changing what I saw in the mirror, and it won't for you either. Fitness isn't something reserved for people who "love running" or have free childcare at their gym.
And of course making an extra dinner for your family on the night I also cooked for mine wasn’t “nothing.” It cost me something, which is why I hope you will treasure it. I stood at my counter and prayed for you and your family as I chopped; I prayed that the food would nourish more than your bodies as you ate it. I packed up my family to drive to your house at rush hour to show my children the importance of caring for others even in the midst of our daily lives. The times others have done this for me have meant the world. And I’m so, so grateful for the opportunity to do it for you.
See what I mean? This recent honesty with myself has embarrassed me. I can’t believe how often I’ve let false humility allow me to lie to myself and my friends. You don’t get extra points if you do something well without trying; basically you just irritate your friends. Not making an effort is not cute.
So I don’t say I’m “not a morning person” anymore. If you and I have a conversation about my early mornings and you tell me you “could never do that,” don’t be surprised if I contradict you. Sure you could, if you really wanted to. I know that now.
And I won’t ever humblebrag again about how I “don’t work out,” when someone comments on my weight, complaining about my post-three-kids flab as if it’s not within my control to do something about it. I won’t say that I’m “not a runner” or “not a gym person.” I will lace up my untrendy running shoes and hit the street, in the darkness if I have to, for reasons that are not limited to my muscle tone.
And I won’t post on my blog periodically with no strategy or intention and get frustrated when writers who I have deemed less talented sign book deals and find success. I will rejoice with those who rejoice; I will see what I can learn from their strategy, and I will hone mine.
I will stop leaving success to chance, as if there is some benefit to waiting for it to show up at my door. It’s not going to. Maybe, even if I’m intentional, it never will. But who knows what I will learn along the way if I try.
There are a few reasons I’m telling you this. I guess I’m apologizing for being that really annoying, disingenuous friend we all have. I’m resolving to knock it off, now that I recognize the behavior. And maybe most importantly, I’m hoping to encourage you to do the same. You’re not bound by the limitation of the things you don’t know how to do yet. Yoda was wrong when he said, “Do or do not; there is no try.” Try as hard as you can and own the effort and the outcome, and be honest when others notice. You owe it to yourself and to the rest of us.
“Met an acquaintance, we were reintroduced
With more in common than we had in our youth,
She told me, ‘You look the same,’
I said, ‘I’m now a new man,’
She asked me, ‘How does that work?’
‘I started giving a damn.’”
--Eric Hutchinson, “Oh!”