I bought a banjo last year.
I remember it was raining outside, and I finally decided to spend the few hundred bucks I’d been stashing away for just that sort of weather. Maybe I’d been listening to a lot of Old Crow Medicine Show. I don’t remember it that well, I guess.
But I do remember feeling that little pang of determination. “You’ve always wanted to play the banjo. If you go out and buy one tonight, by this time next year, you could be playing it.” I remember plucking the one token banjo off the wall at the music shop, running my hand over the glossed edges, thumbing a string, and deciding now was as good a time as any.
“When you learn how to play that, you should get a tattoo of a banjo…on your knee,” said the shop clerk, pausing for comedic effect. I smiled obligingly and decided that’s exactly what I would do, only I’d tell everyone it was my idea.
It’s been nearly a year. No tattoo.
Ok, so you probably think you know where this is going, and I can probably skip the part where I tell you about how, statistically, New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time. I don’t need to add my voice to the chorus of New Year’s nay-sayers, because if resolutions work for you, then that’s great. I wish you well on your anti-statistic rebellion. Maybe the force be with you.
Historically, they don’t seem to be working out as well for me. My birthday falls close to the start of the new year, which means two of my self-imposed self-evaluations happen in quick secession. Which, without fail, sends me into a mini-depression that’s one-part winter and one-part unfulfilled personal goals. Mix well and serve with whiskey.
I have the unfortunate habit of finding ways to busy myself just enough so that my passions—writing, photography, climbing, and, of course, banjo lessons—have to take a ticket and wait. And wait. But the truth is that I’m not that busy. At least, not busy enough that I can’t find an hour a day to devote to these things.
The real problem is that these things feel important to me. They have weight. They aren’t just something I do for work, they actually say something about who I am.
These things feel important, so the prospect of failing at them is terrifying. I’m paralyzed by my own standards.
I really like this quote from author Mark Manson: “Before you are able to be good at something and do something important, you must first suck at something and have no clue what you’re doing. That’s pretty obvious. And in order to suck at something and have no clue what you’re doing, you have to embarrass yourself in some shape or form, often repeatedly. And most people try to avoid embarrassing themselves, namely because it sucks.”
No one was born a climber or mountain biker. No one came out of the womb as a best-selling author. Some people have more natural talent in certain areas than others, but most people who are “good” at something got that way because they worked really hard at it. We all sucked at walking back when we were drooling, gurgling babies—we fell, cried and probably looked like tiny, bald drunk people, but we kept walking until we were good at it. Some of us kept improving on our walking skills until we became Olympic speed walkers (which, as it turns out, still looks pretty embarrassing).
The point is, if you care about something, it will scare you. It should scare you.
And if you care enough about what other people think to avoid doing it, then you aren’t doing something you really care about.
So, maybe if resolutions aren’t your thing, you can write down a list of things you want to embarrass yourself doing this year. Right now, I’m really embarrassed to say I can’t play a single song on that banjo. But if I start again today, and then again the next day, and so on, then maybe one day I won’t be. I’ll never be perfect at it, but #PerfectNever made for good music anyway.
What will you embarrass yourself at?
Written in Partnership with Reebok.