Sucking Ain’t Always Sucking (A Response to Allie Diltz)


Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found at Thinker Boy:  Blog & Art.

Several days ago I read Allie Diltz’s “How I Try to Not Suck (As Much)” and liked the piece a lot.  In fact, thinking about it prompted the response you are about to read.

After finishing her blog, I began to wonder why we judge ourselves so harshly.  There has to a be a reason (or reasons) for this form of self-condemnation.  This phenomenon is an interesting one and made even more curious given that the world we live in is certainly harsh and judgmental.  In most cases, sucking at something doesn’t go unnoticed.  If we are slackers at work or fail to pay our bills in a timely fashion or neglect our spouses or significant others—there are literally millions of ways to perform poorly and things to perform poorly at—such inadequacy never goes unnoticed.  If we suck at the things mentioned earlier, someone is eventually going to let us know about it.

In other words, being sucky at things almost always has consequences and they frequently come in the form of reprimands, punishments, and insults, all of them delivered externally—by others.  On top of that, internal punishments are meted out.  We beat ourselves up in the way Allie did in her blog.  She repeatedly mentioned that she saw herself as a failure and engaged in verbal self-flagellation.  My point is this, when we don’t perform as well as we’d like to, the world notices and doles out punishments in one form or another.  On top of all this, we end up brutalizing ourselves in a variety of ways.  In other words, we see inadequacy or inefficacy as being a kind of “sin”—something so egregious that we punish ourselves even after others have punished us.

As a student of human nature and human behavior, I believe that culture greatly effects how we are and how we act.  Americans (and others) are socialized to believe in something called a “work ethic.”  This work ethic is a value we learn and internalize.  It plays a valuable role in that it makes us feel like we have to find work, do our best at it, pay our own way, and make a valuable contribution to society.  That’s the positive side of the work ethic.  On the downside, it drives us along and can make us feel like failures if we don’t always operate at peak efficiency.  It can get so far inside our heads that it makes us feel guilty if we take a day off and do nothing at all.   It can make us feel like we “suck” if we aren’t churning out whatever it is we think we should be churning out.

It is likely there would be no workaholics if the work ethic didn’t exist.  Workaholics are those who aren’t able to control themselves and have a hard time knowing that working is only part of what makes us who we are.  They feel compelled to be eternally productive.  They don’t realize they have value even when they aren’t actually producing anything.

I’m not suggesting that Allie is a workaholic.  (Actually, the opposite is true.)  She unapologetically admits that she sometimes procrastinates and understands she needs to “embrace” this part of her personality.

I totally get where Allie is coming from because I was raised in a family that had its fair share of workaholics.  And, much earlier in my life, when I was trying to “establish” myself, I suffered from an addiction to busyness and ambition.  Luckily, now that I’m older and can more easily see “the big picture,” I am able to put things in much better perspective.

What are your thoughts on work, the work ethic, ambition, workaholism, and other such things?  I’d love to hear what you have to say.

17 thoughts on “Sucking Ain’t Always Sucking (A Response to Allie Diltz)

  1. As always, there needs to be a balance. One of the things that I’ve come to recognize is that the values my family crammed into my identity are *not* ones I value to the exclusion of all else. In fact, by following that “suck it up, and look this way, or make this much money” I’ve done permanent damage to my body, and harm to my mind. I’m not physically built to be a size 2 – why the hell was I starving myself to try and be something my skeletal frame wasn’t going to make?

    So, it comes to this – yeah, I’m lousy at staying on top of the dusting (it’s boring, it means standing on crappy and painful knees) but I’m damned good at being a loyal and caring friend. If the choice is dusting or sitting and listening to someone who needs to talk – well, listening wins out. I don’t see that as a failure. My family does.

    As far as the work ethic and such… I miss parts of working, and not just the paycheck. My body won’t tolerate the conditions I have skills in, and I certainly will not subject myself to the verbal abuse that comes with working in call centers or the like. Is that being sucky? Considering I should have been in a locked ward no less than three times while working under those circumstances, I’ll have to say that is not being a failure. It’s knowing where MY boundaries are. Again, my family gives me all kinds of grief over this.

    Sure, we can say we suck, or that we’ve failed or any number of other negative thoughts. I feel looking at your priorities, and what values are yours – not imposed ones – and setting boundaries helps make for a good balance. Try harder at being a friend – hell yes. Try to be an impossible size? Pbbllltth!

    1. I really agree with your emphasis on priorities. If you feel good about how you perform on those things you value, that will lead to a happy, fulfilling life, and there will be no self-esteem issues. My rule of thumb is this: Follow your bliss. Of course, fulfill your obligations but spend as much time with those things that make you happy as you can.

  2. I’d like to actually converse with a workaholic. Work is a responsibility. Not all responsibilities should be endured rather than them being happily carried out. We all have our responsibilities. If you’re a paren’t, you’re kids are your responsibility. If you’re by yourself, an independent being, then you yourself are your responsibility. If they are workaholics, which means they preserve all their time into their work which is a duty, then why can’t they spend as much dedication and ambition in themselves, or significant others, when they are indeed, also, duties?

    1. Thank you for this comment. You ask some interesting questions here. I find that a significant number of people are actually afraid of being alone with nothing to keep them busy or distracted. Erich Fromm once wrote a book called Fear of Freedom–something like that. I may have the title a bit wrong. His argument is that some can’t handle being free or alone or “with nothing to do.”

  3. I think the world at large puts too much emphasis on work and money. People think a good job with a fancy title makes a person important. Work equals money and people value stuff WAY too much too..they see money or what it can buy and think that determines a person’s value. The value of a person shouldn’t be decided by these things. Those who feel less than are likely to chase money or fame in order to feel important inside. I bet if you asked a workaholic to really look at why they work so hard it will come back to poor self image and feeling like they have to prove they are enough.

    1. This emphasis on money is certainly true about some countries and peoples. Recently, though, I watched a documentary on how Danes live and they are so much psychologically and physically healthier than people in other places. By the way, family comes first over work there.

      1. Parts of Europe do seem to have a better understanding of what is really important. The sad thing is think some people in America would work non-stop even of they have a family, all the money they need and lots of time off. Some people can’t stop running (usually from themselves). I am a firm believer that family comes first and it’s extremely important to me.

  4. Loved It. Well chosen accurate words. Pretty much summed up my early life training…my young adulthood struggles…and now my mid-life wisdom 🙂 Thanks for Sharing!!!

  5. I am definitely a workaholic and always have been. I’m also fairly productive and focused when it comes to getting things done. However I share the potential downsides that you spot: feeling like I am doing nothing – and therefore have no inherent value – when I am not working. This poses a problem in establishing a work/life balance simply because my sense of self – worth is generated through what I do. Really enjoyed reading this and it’s given me food for thought 🙂

    1. I think it’s so important to develop interests away from work when we are younger. That way, when we get older and can no longer work, we can put our energy into that hobby or passion. Those who put their whole emphasis on work can find themselves in a difficult position if they lose their jobs or find that they have to leave their work. Thanks for the comment.

      1. Very, very, very true. That’s why I am actually taking a year off at the moment to do some things for me and to get to know myself some more. You’re right on with that comment 🙂

  6. Hi Troy, thank you for this response to my post! I’m glad to hear that it was able to spawn further thinking and that you have had such a good response to your post.

    I want to clarify a few things. When I wrote about how I “suck” I wasn’t condemning myself or beating myself up. What my point in describing these times was that we all have moments when we know that we aren’t doing/acting/living up to the best version of ourselves. These moments of realization that I experienced were the times that I had the “I suck” light bulb go off over my head. These times I liken to lines drawn in the sand, where there is a “before” and an “after.” To choose the before path would be to continue doing what you are doing, staying in the suckiness of knowing that you aren’t doing the best you can do. To choose the after path is to “embrace” the suck, which for me is to allow myself to see know I wasn’t doing my best, without judgement, and to move away from that towards doing better. Let me repeat that, seeing this without judgment, without condemnation, and without criticism. Embrace that fact that sometimes I don’t do the best I can, and be ok with that fact.
    I can forgive myself for sucking sometimes.

    This, in my opinion, is actually a positive thing, because this perspective allows me to move forward, into the after, without getting stuck in the “suck.”

    Thanks again for your response, I enjoyed your post!

  7. Your post prompted me to think about American culture and wonder if people who live in other places–places outside of America–feel as guilty as some Americans feel about “wasting time.” Even that phrase (“wasting time”) is interesting. Why do we using the verb “wasting” when we’re really just talking about idleness? Why is idleness and stillness seen as such a bad thing by so many in America?

    Often, when I’m just “wasting time,” I hear this voice in my head that tells me I should get busy doing something productive. I think most Americans, of a certain age and ilk, hear this voice. I wonder if younger Americans are still taught that “idle hands are the devil’s tools”?

    Your post made me think about what we call the “work ethic.” Certainly, the work ethic is a good thing because it teaches us to be “good citizens” by making money and contributing to the greater goodness. Taken to the extreme, though, the work ethic can turn us into neurotic hamsters. Hamsters that run wildly on a wheel that goes nowhere.

    There was a period in my life when I was way too driven for my own good. Of course, the ambition that I had prompted me to get a lot of education and do many wonderful things. Now that I’ve gotten older, I’m certainly more mindful about how I live and look more carefully at what is motivating me and why.

    Thanks for writing an interesting blog that got me thinking about many things and sent my mind in many directions.

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