Thursday, November 14, 2013

The algebra of happiness - giving up stuff I'm just not good at

Life is a lot of things, but mostly,  life is a a big algebra equation.

I am bad at a few things. I'm bad at cooking fish. I'm bad at "fast" dancing. I'm bad at giving speeches.

I gave fish a shot but it never took on its cookbook image, all browned and seasoned next to a scrumptious side. No. Fish that I prepare just looks tired and sick, and practically begs to be put out of its misery. A while back I  thought about the algebra of this: Even if I could perfect fish cooking it wouldn't matter because I don't particularly like fish. So, I don't do it anymore.

"Fast" dancing is required infrequently enough to fake it when I have to.  And, where I would have to, would be in a setting where people are thinking too much about their own dancing to notice. So I do it, do it badly, and don't really care.  That algebra works.

The  speech thing has always been my hill to conquer, something I've created a little space for in my skill set but can't seem to fill.  

Ironically, one of the things I do very, very well is coach teenagers at the Boys and Girls club to speak in public, requested as they often are to tell their stories before all kinds of audiences.  It works because I draw from my expertise as an audience member, not a speaker. As a speaker, I myself could use a coach.

I follow this simple prep route when I've been asked to give a speech or present myself as a specialist of any kind:  I organize what I'm going to say, edit out the fillers,  practice in the car, in the shower, in my head, out loud before the mirror, and think about absolutely nothing else until it's over.

That can take days. But that's how I deal with it. By dealing with nothing else.

Speech giving is my  crook in the alley; the thing I can't always see coming. While I certainly avoid those bad neighborhoods, "opportunities" to speak still pop up and, even knowing how worked up I get, do I politely decline?  No.  When I'm asked to speak, I think about that space in the skill set and accept the challenge to hone and polish and lay this skill alongside the others. Perfect it even. Bake it to a delicious, golden brown and season to taste.

Seven or eight times out of ten, I nail  it. Then, I enjoy a half day or so of euphoria when I return to my other neglected duties, and love with all my heart that no other such challenge looms in the foreseeable future.

That algebra doesn't work:  days of obsessing in return for a half a day of euphoria. I really can't adjust either side of that equation - half a day of obsessing, or days of euphoria, so I am thinking that speech giving should go the way of fish making.

I would be nervous about this if I were thirty. When you're thirty, you just know, in all those years that remain, you're going to have to face your crook in the alley more than once. Maybe several times.

But one of the ever joyous benefits of not being in my thirties is that I make decisions quickly about how to spend my time and do little that doesn't keep that equation in balance.

So, most of the time, it's like this:  Effort and expectation = Benefit and happiness

However, when it comes to public speaking,


See what I mean?

So, with that, I am embracing one of the quickest decisions ever: done with speeches, something I will miss as much I look forward to it.

That algebra works.


  1. Great post! I think sometimes as women we are expected to be good at everything. It is nice to give ourselves permission to be good at what we are good at and let the rest go to others!! Thanks for sharing!

  2. You're right. There is great freedom in saying, "Why? Because. I don't wanna."

  3. Unless it is something that I must do, if I'm not good at something and don't enjoy it, I give it up. There are some things you just know you are not going to get better at and you aren't enjoying enough to try.

  4. Good for you. I agree with you that granting yourself permission to do what makes you feel good is the way to go.