When I was fifteen, I learned not to put Ben Gay on a penis.
I know, there are so many words that don't belong together in that sentence: fifteen and penis, for one, and then of course, penis and any substance designed to ice down your privates before lighting them promptly on fire.
But I had read an article in Cosmo, as you do, and the article said it would be sure to “give your partner an unexpected treat”—which surely proved true—and besides, the label on the bottle touted a “soothing sensation.” And who didn't want that?
Well, I'll spare you the gory details of how…no, absolutely joking, OF COURSE I'm going to tell you the details. And of course I'm going to tell you how this poor guy, my first true love and two years my senior, leaped up and screamed, “WHAT IS THIS? WHAT DID YOU DO?!” (not the reaction I was hoping for) before sprinting into the very narrow bathroom of our 12 x 60 trailer, hoisting himself up into the sink and proceeding to turn the water on full blast as he cupped and tossed, cupped and tossed, cupped and tossed. I think he was in there for a fortnight, or at least it felt that way, while I stood motionless in the hall, making a mental note to choose better sources.
Cosmo. Foiled again!
So I'm sure I don't need to tell you where this story is heading: right into an academic treatise on the value of doing it very, very wrong.
No, really. That's certainly where we're going. Because the other day I was thinking about what I've done right, all these years, to finally have my lifelong dream come true of publishing a real and actual book, that I can rub and caress and write dirty things inside and fling open at passersby in Barnes & Noble, that's finally coming out this February 11th, and that I'm going to be revealing here MONDAY. Monday, folks, hold onto your imitation Gucci belts! I'M NOT CRYING, YOU'RE CRYING.
And I began to consider how so much of what I've done right, was only possible because I did it very, very wrong first. Enter: a mildly graphic account of Ben Gay gone bad. Believe me, I never made that mistake again—though there were plenty of times I'm sure it would have made for some entertaining revenge.
But turns out? This is the best way to get better: by letting yourself be bad first. By making biiiiiiiiiig eat-pavement mistakes. By doing it so wrong, you humble yourself daily. Nobody starts out pole vaulting 950,000 feet into the air. Nobody! We all started with 20 subscribers. We all started without a single dollar in our bank accounts. We all started without any idea what we were doing. Every single person you admire started that way. But you know what they did different?
Instead of only doing the things they knew would work, they did lots of things they thought maybe wouldn't.
Not because they're raging masochists, but because real success comes from trial and error. Superficial success, on the other hand—the kind that you're entirely bored by as you sit in your swivel chair eating peanuts—comes from following the instructions that are already there.
Any yahoo can follow the instructions. Any yahoo can put up an email opt-in and write a fancy line of copy and place an ad on Facebook. Any fuck fuck can do it. Lots of fuck fucks are doing it. But, to what end? Do you really feel good about the work you're doing? Do you really feel great about the way you're doing it? Or are you just following the leader?
The difference between being a leader and following one is in how many mistakes you're willing to make.
Turns out, doing it badly doesn't mean you'll be worse off for it. Doing it badly, on the other hand, is incredibly useful. It's data you're collecting about yourself. To know what you're not good at is the only way to know, with any certitude, what you are. It's not just about finding what “lights you up”: it's about finding what burns you down, too—because you need that contrast to see yourself clearly.
You need to be willing to slap some proverbial Ben Gay on your life to find out who you are. To really take this analogy to the brink:
- I Ben Gay'd the hell out of my business in the beginning, slapping on all sorts of services and products in an attempt to see what worked—and what didn't.
- I Ben Gay'd the hell out of my time, trying on different routines and work flows and ways of Not Totally Fucking It All Up.
- I Ben Gay'd the hell out of my first book proposal, back in 2013, adding all sorts of pretty flourishes in an attempt to cover up the fact that I had no idea what I wanted to write about yet.
- I Ben Gay'd the hell out of my essays, slathering on hefty dollops of sweetness and sincerity (GAG, THE WORST) before realizing that the way I write is who I am, and nothing is wrong with that.
- And ever since, I've gone on to Ben Gay the hell out of my blog, my work, my manuscript, my Twitter account, my Instagram, my retreats, my speaking, my travel, my life. Because now? I ~ want ~ to do it wrong first. I want to know what doesn't work for me. I want to know what I hate, what I despise, what makes me go sprinting into the bathroom in a desperate search for relief.
You can't have sympathy for yourself. You must be willing to die over and over again. You have to sacrifice your ego and your expectations. You've got to be willing to do the things you don't want, in order to get the things that you do.
Fuck your small potatoes dreams. To hell with the “safe” option. Forget chasing victory—victory is for the shallow in search of a pat on the head. Pursue the impossible instead. Pursue the crazy, the illogical, the stuff you know you will do wrong at least five hundred times. Because that's where meaning lives. That's where YOU live. Your grit, your truth, your pride, your heart. There ain't anybody out there who's going to make some meaning for you in this life. Nobody out there is gonna give you a sense of purpose. You've got to make that on your own. And the way is not by doing what you already know you'll win: it's by doing the things you wonder if you won't.
And somewhere in the process, you find what you're made of.
You'll find yourself.
Standing there magnificently with a jar of Ben Gay in your hand, and all the power a woman needs in the world.