I subscribe to a Substack newsletter for writers by Lani Diane Rich. A few weeks ago, she wrote about being bad. On purpose. It made me laugh.
I’m one of those people who has a recording angel at my shoulder, busily writing down every single less-than-perfect thing I think, say, or do. It’s a full-time job.
The idea of being bad – on purpose! – caught my attention.
Well, maybe not on purpose. Maybe just living in such a way that “bad” and “good” don’t enter into … anything.
But then again, maybe on purpose. Maybe writing badly, acting badly, cleaning a dish badly, or eating a whole pizza and letting the grease run down my chin without regret or guilt on purpose.
My horror at the idea (not about the pizza, though) makes me giggle.
This writer makes a great point. Doing things badly, in general, will result in negative feedback of one kind or another. But so does doing things well. In fact, sometimes doing things well results in more negative feedback than doing them badly! Then there’s always the average middle ground: doing things well enough to get by, thereby avoiding attention for being really good or really bad.
Ugh. I’d rather be bad than fit myself into average if I can’t manage good.
How many times in my life have I thought or said, “I’m doing the best I can”?
Hundreds. Thousands. Hundreds of thousands.
Why is it my job to do the best I can?
It used to be my job because I had to justify my existence. However, I’ve outgrown that mindset now and I can’t take it very seriously. I don’t have to justify my existence anymore.
I also did it to stay safe and get loved.
It didn’t work.
I do it to make a deal with the Universe. I’ll do this thing as best I can if you’ll make sure I’m OK.
Hard to say if that’s effective. I’ve always been OK, but I might have been without killing myself trying to be good.
I do it to prepare for failure. I’ll try as hard as I can, and if (when) I fail, at least I’ll know I gave it my best.
Failure and success. I’ve redefined those. I haven’t always gotten the success I’ve wanted, but that doesn’t mean I’ve failed. In fact, some of my most stunning missteps and miscalculations have turned out to be life-changing gifts.
In the end, I have one good reason for being good, and that has to do with my own integrity. It’s important to me to know I’m doing the best I can in everything I do. I don’t expect praise or rewards. I’ve learned (sadly) it’s no guarantee my needs will be met. I know better than to expect reciprocity or appreciation.
It’s simply who I choose to be in the world.
But here’s a question: are “bad” and “good” mutually exclusive? Would I be more flexible, more creative, healthier, happier, and more whole if I could be bad as well as good? Is there unexplored territory in badness? Could the ability to choose to be bad be part of being good?
Could I choose to be some degree of bad along with good?
Being skilled, productive, effective, useful, kind, reliable, honest, etc., etc. all the time takes a lot of energy.
A lot of energy.
When we’re kids, we’re taught good things come to people who are good.
It would be nice if life was that easy.
I can’t help but notice while I’m doing my best from dawn to dusk some other people are not. Other people are sloppy and lazy and careless and they’re not struck down dead by a celestial lightning bolt.
A little voice in my head says that’s all the more reason I have to be continually good, to pick up the slack the fuck-it-I-don’t-care people leave.
Bullshit. I’m not the Cosmic Miss Fix-It.
Maybe it’s okay to think about taking a break from the job of being “so goddamn excellent all the time,” in Lani’s words.
Everyone needs a day off now and then. A lunch break. A vacation. Maybe I’ve worked too much overtime being excellent. Maybe I’ve lost my work-life balance.
© 2022, Jenny Rose. All rights reserved.
I find being naughty on purpose adds color and flavor to my life. To shake things up a bit. It is like sharing a joke with myself.
For me, being excellent at everything morning to evening disallows me to be excellent at living creatively or at going with the flow, or even in having fun. Hell, I don’t even know what being perfect or excellent would look like.
I am more interested in being authentic as a goal. In responding to the moment and my needs in general. While I am aware of social pressures to do, to feel, or to respond in certain ways. I find listening to my inner voices (plural), even with their differences is better for me in the long run. To move towards joy or pleasure is my best compass for navigating this plane called life.
I love reading your posts. They give me a perspective to consider. Often we approach things similarly and i enjoy the ways your words describe my unworded ideas. Other times I recognize a new way to think about something and that is fun.
I move towards fun..and slightly naughty.
Thanks for this great comment, Kim. It made me smile. I like the goal of authenticity much better than the goal of being “good.” As you say, I don’t even know what being “good” means. I’d never thought about moving in the direction of fun, though, and leaving behind value judgements about what feels like fun to me. You made me think some more on this, and that’s the best fun there is as a writer, when someone takes the idea I’ve taken from someone else and expands on it a little more in a slightly different direction!