On the first few episodes of ABC’s The Bachelor, when the eponymous character needs to quickly get to know a woman during a cocktail party before deciding whether to kick her out of his romance mansion, he often resorts to a routine command: “Tell me about yourself.” It’s an unsettling and somewhat existential prompt, right up there with “What’s a fun fact about yourself?” though not nearly as awful. (Thank goodness we’ve more or less been removing “fun facts” from the zeitgeist.) And yet, we still have to answer it on interviews, dates, The Bachelor and, worst of all, the first discussion section of the year.
I recently re-read the email I sent to the list of fellow first-year spring admits two years ago, where I attempted to sound cool and interesting and ultimately tell these strangers “about myself.” I said I was interested in politics and in my free time I was “usually reading, succumbing to a Netflix binge or excessively snapchatting,” which was all true, I guess, but somewhat grim in retrospect. Watching Netflix and using Snapchat does not a particularly interesting person make, and it sure doesn’t tell you anything “about” that person either.
No braggies, but I do things that are more fulfilling than just watching TV or using social media — I’m just extraordinarily embarrassed to announce them to my discussion section or list them in a Twitter bio. If I did, the implication, whether I like it or not, is that I’m good at these things, or at least good enough to dare to affix the title to my identity.
The reality is, I suck at a lot of the things I love to do. I especially love to run, and I especially suck at running, but saying that I’m a runner immediately makes expectations bubble up inside the audience, expectations about how good I should be before co-opting the title of “runner.” I don’t look like a runner. I’m not thin or lanky and I audibly mouth-breathe when walking up the slope or walking up the footbridge to the Ag Quad or walking in general. If I dare bring up my extremely brief tenure on my high-school track team, the response is almost always something like “Really? I wouldn’t have guessed you ran track,” which — now that I write it out — I realize is also pretty rude. I’m not that good at running either, so I can’t really prove my haters wrong. I ran a half-marathon in May (which I’m really proud of!) with a truly mediocre time (still proud, but not anything to write home about). The thing is — I don’t really care. I love, love, love to run! It’s the most awe-inspiring way to viscerally feel and understand the capabilities of your own body. I am so unbelievably uncoordinated that it’s the only time my limbs can really feel free to move however they please. Running is meditative, and, as a viral comic from The Oatmeal puts it, “…when I run, the world grows quiet.”
Insecurity in announcing the things that are important to us — no matter how much we suck at them — is largely due to our generation’s use of social media and incessant perfectionism. Amateurism and beginnerism can’t thrive on social media, when the goal is to showcase ourselves, our talents and our obsessions. Crafting a web presence means putting your best foot forward, and so when I Instagrammed my marathon picture, I didn’t include the ones with the timer in the background and I made the caption some self-deprecating and relatable joke about being slow. Even when I made a now-defunct parody fitness Instagram and cataloged my runs, I would only include the mileage if the run was more than four miles. Our desire to share content but also to curate it is a constant, throbbing reminder to keep the things you suck at (even if you love them!) on the down-low.
But, as Karen Rinaldi wrote in a popular piece for The New York Times last year, “it’s great to suck at something.” She writes, “Maybe sucking at something where the stakes are low can lead us to a better place. Maybe it could be a kind of a medicine for the epidemic cocksureness in our culture,” a cocksureness that — at least in its performativity — plagues today’s young people especially. A study published in the Psychological Bulletin earlier this month suggests that perfectionism in youth has risen over the last 27 years, noting that “this may be because, generally, American, Canadian and British cultures have become more individualistic, materialistic and socially antagonistic over this period, with young people now facing more competitive environments, more unrealistic expectations, and more anxious and controlling parents than generations before.” In other words, the cards are stacked against us, and being awful at something and, well, owning it is such a wonderfully fun way to refuse this system of perfectionism.
So, yeah, I’m Pegah, and in my free time I like to crochet, cook and run, and I suck at all three.
Pegah Moradi is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Jokes Aside appears alternate Mondays this semester