You’re crap, and it’s okay

A few weeks ago I was playing racketball (or squash as the rest of the sensible non-American world knows it) and was having a horrible time. As the ball bounced around the court with exactly the wrong speed, direction and momentum for me to make a game of it, I felt increasingly frustrated. I took frequent breaks to change my racket, choosing those with “better grips”. Then I changed the ball because it seemed to “bounce funny”. I found I needed a few additional “water breaks” because it was “humid” (the court is indoors and air-conditioned).

As I took my seven hundred and thirtieth break, it occurred to me there was definitely something wrong. I knew.

“It’s not the ball, the bounce, the surface, the pitch, the weather, the grip, the spectators, the wind, the wood. It’s you. You’re crap.”

It was liberating. It felt wonderful to articulate this deeply hidden truth. Strangely, it wasn’t demoralizing at all. I’ve felt this before. This self-deprecation gave way to a sense of relief and of wanting to move on and be something better.

I’ve suffered through an intensely torturous period in my life when my personal and professional lives were falling apart. I lost friends (or the ones I thought who were), I began to lose my family and the one thing that helped me accelerate down disaster alley was my own sense of imperviousness. Having taken stock of everything I had achieved in life up to that point (basically, nothing much), I decided that the world was failing me. If only others could understand how hard I was trying. A reality check would’ve helped but I didn’t think I needed it or that anyone was capable of providing it. I retreated into a shell, a feeling of isolation, hurt and of being misunderstood; ironically made worse by my slow descent into the world of online validation. The more time I spent there, the more I came away thinking I was a victim of circumstance. Delusion is like quicksand. The more you struggle to move up and out, the faster you sink.

It’s also this terrible problem of expectation. Especially, expecting of others. Who am I to expect others to adhere to my standards? How do I know my standards aren’t fundamentally flawed? It’s better to reserve your disappointment for failing to meet your own expectations.

Shorn of prejudice, it’s easier to introspect and see how full of crap you really are. That’s a great place to start resurrecting. You’re just crap, like a mound of clay, ready to be molded into something better. Bit by bit, day by day.

It has made me want to learn more. It’s nice to start from first principles again – wiping the slate clean of mental detritus and begin the process of neatly organizing every new thought into a coherent structure that’s useful to you and others.

It has made me seek out people who know more, are more and can help me be more. One-man shows are inherently dangerous, prone to hubris and lack perspective. I’ve been fortunate enough to surround myself with people with no insecurity and immense talent. A humbling experience indeed. This also reminds me, there are many people who think you’re crap but will tell you otherwise – out of politeness, malice or just apathy. Beware the passive-aggressive, the sweet-talking backstabbers and the solicitous friends who act as echo chambers.

It has made me want to be a better, more realistic parent. My son looks up to me. He wants to emulate my mannerisms, speech and idiosyncrasies. Luckily, he has a better role model in his mother, so the least I can do for him is present an honest picture of who I am and what he can expect from me. He can expect the very best because there’s no question he deserves it, but I’ll help him understand it’s the best that I can give. I want to tell him about my mistakes when he’s old enough to know they need not be repeated. I want to tell him about my flaws when he’s old enough to understand they don’t define me. I want him to respect me for the person I want to be, not the person he thinks I am – a default relationship as a father and the center of his universe.

A few years ago when I was a fresh-faced rookie, a senior colleague advised me that the first tenet of survival is to never admit you don’t know something. Bluff, buy time but maintain an aura of invincibility. That didn’t work out for me so well, but I hope it helped that person, wherever they are today.

My honest advice: every morning, tell yourself you’re crap. So that no one else will.


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14 responses to “You’re crap, and it’s okay”

  1. 5hyam (@i5hyam) says :

    For the first time I think you have it completely wrong. Squash and racketball are different sports. :)

    Oh, and about the rest, bloody brilliant, as always.

  2. @nomad_singh says :

    initially, I thought that I will write my comment in Hindi as I really think that I’ll never be able to write a correct English. And I think this is absolutely true also. you know this feeling gets intensified whenever I read your postings, I see that your thoughts are so honest, organized and well expressed. And then I look at myself, feel challenged that whenever I have to express my thoughts in English, I get stuck and by that time, my thoughts wander. And then I think I am crap.

    Today, I went to watch F1 and I was telling my friend about you. I mentioned about your passion for this game and also, about your posting on F1 you wrote for Varun Grover. While watching the game, There were few things I could not keep a track of. I was lost. My friend said ‘chal na bhenchod, game samajh aaye na aaye, mazaa toh aaya’. I felt sad thinking I read about this game and still I am unable to understand few basic things. Again the same feeling ‘I am crap’.

    To cut a long story in short, daddysan, I am your secret admirer, a big fan of you, your thoughts, your writings, your knowledge, blah blah. And I am lucky to know you atleast thought twitter and your blog postings.


    • daddysan says :

      Nomad, I’m not sure how to respond, I’m humbled and I’m amazed I could evoke such a reaction in someone else. Truly grateful for your kind words and thank you for reading.

      Please don’t think of this post as something that destroys morale – it’s only a way to say that each day is new and it’s good forget every disappointment and success and start afresh.

    • Saudamini Junnarkar (@Sydneyzword) says :

      Dear Nomad_Singh,

      English can be improved by spending some time reading passages of well written text. Reading Daddysan’s posts is a start.
      We are not in this world to understand everything but to find our place in it and make our peace with the same. Constant strife for improvement is just a way to improve yourself, for yourself. Never let the world get you down. Like your friend said, even if you don’t understand it at least try and enjoy it.

  3. Yours Truly says :

    A part of this comes across as escapist. Sometimes, one needs to not change the racket or take 700 breaks. But, just suck it and grind it out. Till one wins. But, I guess that does not apply everywhere.

  4. anoop says :

    Nice post. Particularly like the idea of starting from first principles since we get mentally lazy about so many.

    A quote I read several years ago rammed home into the very recesses of my brain and has stayed there to always act as a normalizer in any given situation in life. It goes…

    “You’re never as good as they say when you win and never as bad as they say when you lose”. Think it applies, even to the voice in our heads.

  5. Vjsub says :

    Scathingly honest as always. Funnily enough it reminded me of a time 10 years ago when I was moving up the ladder (you know, that one which takes you to the top rung of nowhere) I was told, never to admit you’re wrong in a corporate set up. All I asked in return was – how the hell does one get better then?

    Your openess will cement the relationships that matter to you and fetch you many new ones. More power to you, Daddysan.

  6. Saudamini Junnarkar says :

    It’s well written but don’t start everyday you’re crap. You might just end up believing it ;)

    I never knew you in any personal capacity, just the as a hero, a childhood idol of a bubbly, troubly girl. And even today I admire you for the words you write, the way you write, all that you have done and the things you do.

    So while you may have lost the “so called” friends (who hasn’t) and you might lose more, your family might let you down from time to time, your kid may think you aren’t so smart after all…. Always know that you have your share of admirers.

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