So, I actually figured out one resolution that I DO have for 2018: I resolve to block, ban, and otherwise ignore the “You’re Doing it Wrong” memes and videos.
You know the ones I’m talking about. They’ve been around for several years.
“10 Ways You’re Folding Your Sheets Wrong…”
“6 Ways You’re Brushing Your Teeth Wrong…”
“8 Ways You’re Probably Showering Wrong.”
That last one is absolutely real. And it’s the one that drove me over the edge the other day.
“Oh, come on!” I yelled at my smartphone…
“I’ve been showering for fifty-freaking years…I’m NOT doing it wrong!!!”
The Atlantic put out a list back in 2014, which I am sure has exploded and expanded well beyond this. Here is a partial list of the things the internet believes you are doing wrong….
Investing in biotech
Investing in general
Making French toast
Making French fries
Making potato salad
Making tomato soup
Following the Paleo diet
Taking the Ice Bucket Challenge
Marketing to millennials
Sleeping with dogs
Looking for jobs
Encouraging a Feedback Culture
Using the bathroom
Checking out at grocery stores
Social media marketing
Applying nail polish
Being a dad
Making people happy
Making people sad
Waging psychological warfare
Facing the future
My big beef in all this is not advice. Everybody needs good advice from time to time. It’s the word “wrong.” It’s the idea that there is ONE “right way,” and a thousand sub-standard ways to do anything. And that if we’re not doing things the right way, we are somehow defective and lost.
Here’s the thing. You don’t need ANY of this negatively-framed advice. You have Google at your fingertips. If you have a concern about the way you “doing” something, just Google it. Don’t subject yourself to the smarmy, self-important scolding of these videos and memes.
We live in the era of the “expert.” For decades during the latter part of the last century, human beings increasingly convinced themselves they didn’t know how to do almost *everything.* Especially in our country, we became hyper-rational. Unless an “expert” told them the way to do it, you would have thought human beings had no brains at all. From parenting books (starting with Dr. Spock) to home-making (Martha Stewart), Americans turn to “the expert” on how to do anything.
For a brief shining moment, I thought we might have turned the corner on all this, when Martha Stewart went to prison. But, alas, just then, along came the internet. And an entirely new generation of know-it-all busybodies was born, ready to tell you all the ways you are failing at living your life.
Let me be blunt.
You are NOT failing at living your life. In fact, you are living your life the very best you know how, which is how human beings have always lived their lives. Except that you are the beneficiary of the received wisdom of generations of men and women who have made you who are you today.
This was a lesson Dennise and I learned powerfully when she became pregnant. We ran to the bookstore, to the “Self-Help Parenting” section…which is what people did before there was the internet.
We bought a PILE of books on parenting, some of which were truly terrifying in terms of the warnings they screamed about the myriad ways we might screw up our kid…or, the dozens of random and little-known diseases she might die from.
Eventually, we had to put the books away. They were stressing us out, more than they were helping us.
And then, a powerful truth hit us…
We realized that human beings had been successfully raising children for thousands and thousands of years. Those children, by and large, made it to adulthood without self-help books, Google, and reams and reams of advice.
Yes, I’m sure those children were scarred in ways. But everybody is scarred by life, eventually.
The point is, there is something inside human beings that knows how to be a human being. There is something inside of us (I believe it comes from God…) that knows how to be loving, nurturing, compassionate, caring.
And if we have come to a place where we believe we *don’t* have this fount of knowledge inside of us, then it’s because we are looking outside of ourselves for validation, permission, and rules far too much…and not because human beings have radically evolved in the past several decades, into thoughtless, brainless, helpless beings who cannot figure stuff out.
That’s not to say we don’t need “experts.” We do. We just need to know when to consult them, and when to trust our own instincts. Sure, use Google when you are genuinely stumped. See a therapist when you are depressed, or a minister with spiritual questions. Consult an accountant when you have a tax problem. Call a plumber when the pipes freeze.
But don’t spend hours perusing “You’re Doing It Wrong” memes.
You’re *not* doing it wrong. You’re doing it YOUR way. And there might be a “better” way to do almost everything you do in your life. Or, there might *not* be. But YOU have an inner strength that can guide you to those choices.
Stop worrying that you are living your life the wrong way, or making every choice the wrong way. That’s paralyzing and self-defeating in the worst way possible.
Finally, this: Doing things “wrong” is a key part of how we learn and grow. If we don’t fail —meaning, if we ourselves don’t try things and spectacularly fail in them— then we never learn what “our way” really is. We’ll just keep running back to the expert teacher/expert, every time. We’ll spend our whole lives trying to “learn for the test” —like far too many high school students are forced to do today—instead of learning how to LEARN…from life.
Yoda is absolutely right in “The Last Jedi,” when he says:
“The greatest teacher, failure is.”
Allow yourself the gift of failure, not the burden of trying to avoid your failures. You can’t do that any way. All those ways of doing things “better?” All those memes? THEY will fail too. There will be times when they will spectacularly be the wrong choice.
I have encountered friends who have said, “But, Eric, when I was growing up, nobody taught me anything. I feel like need these memes to help me know how to live…”
I understand that, really.
But just Google it. Or, even better, ask a friend. Seek out communities like churches, where we all gather together to admit our failures each week. Again, don’t spend hours, beating yourself up over all the things you don’t know, or could do better.
Your are perfect, right now. Your way of doing things works for you, and you can trust yourself. And when your ways fail, then your failures will teach you a new way, and that will be your “new” perfection.
You’re not doing it wrong.
You’re doing it your way.
Which is all any of us can ever do.