I am 100% guilty as charged, but lately I’ve been mulling what’s driving the Youth of Today to humbly disparage their ability to Life. You know the familiar cry: Oh, I am so bad at X!
There’s a difference, of course, in being bad at some things — everyone is bad at some things — and wearing perceived failures around like a gilded robe.
A gilded robe with patches, because that shit looks, like, super authentic.
I like self-effacing humor as well as the next artless chump, but there comes a time when you hear some of the words coming out of your mouth and feel slightly unsettled. Your internal marketing team is writing misleading copy about you and the disingenuity is gnawing at the dim corners of your soul.
These are a few of the insinuations I’ve made, repeatedly, for some length of time:
- My carpet is stained, I am so bad at life!
- My dishes are mismatched, I am so bad at life!
- I don’t dress well and don’t care to know how, I am so bad at life!
- I can’t get up early, I am so bad at life!
- I didn’t clean the bathroom like I should have, I am so bad at life!
At some point I have to say, look, babe, you have lived without the support of your parents for years. You are holding down a job and you feed yourself at regular intervals. You pay bills. Sometimes you file papers away inside individual folders in a plastic box. You engage in regular car maintenance. A handful of people like you. You still have all your teeth. You are actually pretty fucking good at life, when you sit down and really think about it.
Like anything I write there is some measure of hyperbole here, but I’ve heard my peers say similarly slanderous things about themselves. Quite often, actually. Sometimes I get the feeling we’re engaging an unspoken, perpetually escalating competition to prove who among us is the bigger disaster:
Oh my god, I missed my train again. I just can’t seem get my act together.
At least you have an act. I had to eat milk and cereal out of my cupped hands again this morning because I haven’t washed my dishes in two months.
At least you have dishes! All I do is eat takeout. I don’t even know how to cook. I’m a complete monster.
At least you have money for takeout! I can barely keep a job. My career is a total trainwreck.
Are you kidding me? What career? I feel like such a fraud. I have no idea how I even graduated college.
Oh yeah? Well at least you went to college. I can’t even be trusted to use the bathroom. Nope! Never been potty trained. Ugh! I’m such a toddler.
After typing that out I’m now reminded of the “Compliments” video by Amy Schumer that was passed around a few months ago. KERNELS OF TRUTH, YO.
Why don’t our parents, our grandparents, talk like this? Older generations by and large want to prove themselves capable. They want others to think they’re competent, even when they’re not.
Younger folk, on the other hand, hold our competence at arm’s length. We poke at our competence with sticks and then jump back with a screech, just out of reach. Then we do the Hammer Dance to “U Can’t Touch This” because seriously, don’t touch this. Once you’ve got even a fleck of competence on you it’s impossible to wash off.
I’ve threaded together a few theories as to why it’s now normal to embrace being bad at life:
Fountain of Youth. We’ve been brainwashed to believe that youth is everything, and without it we are nothing. So we’ve got to grip those carefree, irresponsible days by the throats and never let go. How embarrassing would it be to admit we’re capable adults? Our social lives would never recover, also we’d probably immediately come down with a dreadful case of eye wrinkles.
Manic Pixie Dreaming. The pixie is hopelessly, helplessly adorable in her ineptitude. The pixie cannot remain gainfully employed or make toast without burning a house down, but she can do quirky, borderline disordered things like wander the summer streets in a Daniel Boone cap, and this makes people love her. It’s cute to be spazzy and unreliable! Maybe we should be spazzy and unreliable too, just in case it helps people like us.
It Takes a Teenage Riot to Get Me Out of Bed. First we were told we could be anything we wanted so we went to college to learn how but it was a highly disorienting, expensive time, and when we got out all the jobs were gone and so we had to dial our life expectations down from “being anything we wanted to be” to “being anything that pays any amount of money okay even Fry Cook please let me get this job.” Go ahead, take our self-esteem, we’re not going to need it.
We Are the 99%. Society heavily idolizes the “supers” — those among us who have arrived at popularity, success, and prosperity via the short road of genetics, circumstance, and dumb luck. The rest of us yokels don’t stand a chance, so why even try?
Come As You Are. Having cut musical teeth on grunge, we took the themes of social alienation and self-loathing to heart. In 1992 music critic Simon Reynolds said: “There’s a feeling of burnout in the culture at large. Kids are depressed about the future.” What was that? Sorry. I was too busy lying on the floor thinking about what an epic waste I am.
Ballad of a Ladyman. Women in particular have been conditioned to seek reassurance and acceptance via self-depreciating comments. Also we’re sorely lacking in leadership and confidence role models! What a downer of a combo, dude.
The Jerk Store Called. We are like this because we are lazy jerks (the olds’ favorite theory!).
Whatever the real reasons, it’s clear that we’re addicted to being bad at stuff. You hear it in our language all the time. We are bad kids, we are bad employees, we are bad partners, we are bad parents. We are bad at everything, we are just bad all around. Being bad is like a secret handshake; a home away from home. Badness is shared blood and common bond.
And I’m finally, completely, utterly over it. I want to call things as they are now. I have mismatched dishes because I don’t value buying a matched set. I sleep later than others because my internal clock is different. The bathroom didn’t get cleaned because I prioritized other things at the time. I mean, shit, you guys. This is so dead simple that I can’t fathom how I didn’t see it before.
I can’t take one thing I didn’t perform to some ideal social norm and use that as a blanket statement to prove what a mess I am. The logic gap there is so large that I couldn’t even see it — the whole time I thought I was on a plain when I was really at the bottom of the widest canyon.
Here’s where I would normally make noises in the form of a rallying cry about how I’m not going to play the “bad” game anymore, but we all know that type of shit is as hard to unlearn as the knowledge that Jon Hamm doesn’t wear underpants. So like anyone else, I’m going to be limping along my journey for the next several hundred miles.
Now if you’ll excuse me, my gilded robe needs another patch.