What Will You Embarrass Yourself At This Year?

Dirtbag Darling for Reebok.

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.

Dirtbag Darling for Reebok.

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.

A forest shrouded in mist.

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.

Dirtbag Darling for Reebok.

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.”

Sap running down a tree trunk.

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.

Dirtbag Darling for Reebok.

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.

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9 Comments

  • It’s so good to read your article ! (Sorry if my english is kind of bad, I’m French and we are not deemed for our skills in foreign languages !). I’ve so many things I love to do and I’d like to be good at, that it totally speaks to me.
    I always remember this phrase : “Ask yourself everyday if you have done something for your dream” (or something like that).
    It’s my fuel to go on and work hard !

  • Love this. I will be embarrassing myself in adult beginner ballet. Ballet is something I’ve pined over since I was 6 and inexplicably quit my lessons at the time. I’ve been thinking for a long time about taking lessons, and my husband pushed me to do so this year by suggesting it as my christmas gift. So, I’ll be starting class on the 9th of January, and boy am I going to suck. I also ride horses, which is basically the exact opposite leg position required for ballet. But I’m very excited to start and am telling my anxiety to stfu.

  • YES! I’ve been meaning to write about something similar because I decided this year I was going to learn to play hockey with no experience whatsoever. I look like an idiot out on the ice but I’m sticking with it. Great post!

  • I want to boulder. Have you ever been to the bouldering section of a climbing gym? While people wait their turns, they sit there and stare at the person bouldering. It’s horrifying. I haven’t gotten my nerve up yet, but you’re right.

  • Loved reading your article, it’s very inspiring–and fun! I’ve tried many times to learn another language, and it’s definitely embarrassing fumbling the words. I know it takes time and practice, and you have to make mistakes to learn, but it’s hard. I’m planning to give it another go this year, and hopefully I can stick with it.

  • I am going to embarrass myself this year by being a writer and hiker! Both are passions of mine and both are ones that I have put in a half effort with over the years. It is so true that in order to be really good at something you have to suck at it first. This reminds me of a quote I read by a Navy Seal in an article about doing the hard stuff. He said, “If it doesn’t suck, it’s not worth doing.” Looking forward to blowing it big time this year to get really good at the things that make my heart sing 🙂

  • I’m hoping to slip and fall in mud and look horrible when coming out of my tent. and maybe forget how to tie a knot when I need to hang a tarp. and maybe I’ll fart in yoga class (oh gawd! I hope not!)

  • Yes! We are all “tiny bald drunk people” trying to learn new things. I purchased a really nice Ukulele last year and after partially learning to play the song “Where is My Mind” by the Pixies, my 12 year old daughter started taking the Ukulele into her room for about 2 hours after school every day practicing a variety of songs. We giggled at how she sounded belting out the song “Hallelujah” (which is incredibly ambitious), from behind her bedroom door. Hats off to kids for just not giving a crap how bad they are at things. Now she’s playing great…. of course. 🙂 #PerfectNever

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