Making peace with being lame

Credit: ShoppingDiva via Flickr

“You have to face the fact that maybe you’re just unemployable.”

I flushed with anger. My dad knew my job was on the bubble, and it was a pretty callous and insensitive thing to say.

It wasn’t until a few years later that he explained that he meant that as a compliment. He said, “unemployable means that you stop being able to work for idiots, and you start realizing they’re all idiots.”

I still don’t know about the “unemployable” bit, but imagine the hell it would be to live as someone who fits that definition of unemployable and yet tries to fit into a mold of the model employee. I think I could live down the legacy of, “Wow, he sure was lame at working for idiots.”

I used to get frustrated with my wife for not caring enough about her work. Where was the ambition? Her coworkers and bosses recognized her potential, so why didn’t she?

It turns out that their (and my) mold for her wasn’t what came naturally to her. She wanted to be a mom, and she’s turned out to be so wonderful at it that I could burst with pride.

What about you? You’re probably awesome at a lot of things. You’re probably also lame at a bunch of other things. Those peaks and valleys make up your gifts, temperament, skills, and pretty much everything else that we cobble together to form an identity.

And it’s all too tempting to look around and see the peaks in others’ lives and fixate on the valleys in your own. How hypocritical and unfair is that?

If you’re anything like me, you too often spend your days filling in the valleys, obsessing over your weaknesses, then start piling up guilt for not having the time and energy to get it all done (which itself deserves another post).

Meanwhile, you’re sitting on a gold mine of talent. There are things you do naturally 10 times better than most of the people around you, and it’s likely that you’re downplaying those gifts to fit in a mold that was cast for someone else.

Most people I meet who feel insufficient and broken are exactly the right fit in a completely different puzzle.

The most innovative and successful people of our time have almost universally been unemployable misfits. The universe needed exactly them, and they were lucky or brave enough to discover why before they let society hammer them into the wrong holes.

Let me break it down for you:

(Stuff you’re good at)  x  (Time you have on earth) = Your impact

There is simply not enough time to get really great at everything, even if you did have the capacity. Which you don’t. Sorry.

I believe that if you’re not spending the majority of your days exploiting your own talents and experience, doing what comes naturally to you, you’re not having the impact you could at your work, in your life, or in the world.

This is not to say you won’t have to do hard things! But life is hard enough, you don’t have to dial the difficulty up and handicap yourself.

Stop for a moment. Think about what it is that you do really well. Do those things give you a multiplied impact where you are? If not, that may be a sign that you’re the exact right fit for something else.

Will this guarantee that you’re happy? No. But not following the simple formula pretty much guarantees you’ll be unhappy.

So go ahead, keep improving you, but exactly you is just great. You need no additional skills or experience to do amazing things. Ironically, to do so, you have to make peace with being lame at everything else.

  • Nick Stewart

    Great post. I’ve considered this for some time; what is the thing(s) that I am great at? I don’t know for sure yet but I’m getting closer to some semblance of an answer.

    Is front-end programming the thing you’re great at? Or is it something else?