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On Not Having My Shit Together

The thing is that everyone says after you admit that you don’t have your shit together, “oh my G-d, I didn’t know!  I totally thought YOU had your shit together.”  And then you’re like, “well, no, I mean, really who does have their shit together?”  But even as you say that, you admit to yourself that you are insanely jealous of all sorts of people that you assume have their shit together.  They seem to know what to do, they understand instructions, they achieve great things, they sail through embarrassing situations, they show up on time.  They pack pants.

By which I mean, I’ve come to realize that we’re all fairly good at faking it, at least in small intervals.  We can hold it together in the carpool pick-up line.  We can hold it together at the grocery store.  We can hold it together through blog posts or presentations at work or dinner parties.  In doing so, we can skate by while our neighbours and friends and co-workers and sometimes even family members think all is fine.

And let’s be clear, all is fine in the grandest sense of that word.  Even when you’re falling apart with anxiety or jealousy or disappointment, it’s not the same as being blown apart.  In one case, it’s an easy mess to tidy up.  In the other case, you’re shattered.

So the truth is that most of us are a little jagged on the inside, snagging on ourselves.

And yet, we can’t help but be surprised whenever someone tells us that they don’t feel like they know what they’re doing.  Them, we think incredulously?  We make a lot of assumptions about other people and how easily they have it.  How things fall into place for them.  How they are treated different; receive different things than we receive.  We assume they have things figured out or are emotionally set for life or somehow worry less.

And we’re completely dumbfounded when we discover people think those things about us.  That they think we have our shit together.

Oh my G-d, if we’re all just bumbling around in the dark and no one feels settled, then what stability is there on this earth?


Neil had a great point he made last week in a writing group that we’re in (if you are curious, you can sign up through him) about admitting that you don’t have your shit together.

Do you think — that as creative people — we are given a pass in allowing to express these fears in public. I mean we certainly don’t want President Obama coming to the microphone and saying, “You know what — I have no fucking idea if my health plan is really going to work!” But can we say, “I’m not sure this story I’m working on even makes sense?” Do we always have to say, “My novel in progress ROCKS!”

I gave this a lot of thought.  President Obama has my well-being in his hands, and he isn’t an average guy I’d see at my local Starbucks, so I could write off that example.

But what about my doctor?  What if my doctor came into the examination room and said, “I think I suck as a doctor.  I’m really unsure of myself.  But let’s schedule your surgery anyway.”  Noooooooooooooooo.  Dentist?  I mean, my dental procedures aren’t life-or-death; would I stick with a dentist who said, “I woke up this morning wondering why people choose my dental practice over another one.  I mean, it’s not as if I’m as good as Dr. Goldblum.”

Okay, those examples both pertain to my body, what about a window installer who told me that he found the installation instructions confusing and really didn’t feel he had a firm grasp on the process?  Or a baker who told me that her bread was okay, it was edible, but had I checked out the bread at that other bakery because everyone said that bread was amazing.

Because it does beg the question: if there is amazing bread to be had, why would anyone buy the less amazing bread?  I mean, yes, luckily the taste of bread is in the mouth of the beholder, and what I would consider to be the best might not be what you’d consider to be the best.  And in a lot of cases, good enough comes into play, or factors beyond the criteria we think should be important.  I don’t just read blog posts I find amazing; I read blog posts because they’re written by friends.

For me, connection trumps all.

But aren’t we drawn to confidence?  Drawn to claims that something is the best?  Don’t we admire people who seem to have no foibles, even if we rationally know that they must have foibles since everyone has some?  Right?  Everyone does have foibles, correct?


I just finished reading Paper Towns by John Green.  It’s not even his best book much less on par with books by writers like Margaret Atwood or Toni Morrison or Knut Hamsun or Chinua Achebe.  Why the hell would I spend time reading Paper Towns when there are books that have literally changed the world that I still haven’t read?  There are fantastic books that have changed the course of history, and I’m bypassing them for someone’s not-best work. (Apologies to Josh Green — I have loved everything else, and I gave you a great review on GoodReads comparing your book to eating blueberry water ice)

I don’t know.

I guess because it’s enjoyable.

That’s really the only hope I have for my books.  That someone will put enjoyable out there as a reason to give their time to it instead of one of the other hundreds of books that fill me with jealousy over their publicity budget or awards or acclaim.

Anne Lamott opens Bird by Bird by saying: “good writing is about telling the truth.”  So I’m just telling you the truth in written form, about writing.

And yet going back to Neil’s question, telling the truth marks me and fills me with embarrassment.  Why should you stick with a blogger who doesn’t feel sure of herself, or read the book of a writer who admits that she doesn’t really feel like she has her shit together?  Don’t you want to read the words of someone who knows?  Who has it all figured out?  Aren’t we looking to others because we don’t have it figured out?

I’m telling you the truth because what else can I do?  I certainly can’t pretend that I have my shit together mostly because if anyone ever took a moment and thought about it, it’s so abundantly clear that all of us do not (and yes, realizing that applies even to the President does fill me a bit with dread).

This is the truth:

I would like Measure of Love to succeed, though I have no concept of what I mean by success.  It’s one of those things that I know it when I see it, though the reality is that feeling that something is successful is so fleeting too: the moment I feel as if it’s doing well, I set a new goal marker to reach and feel depressed that there are still so many miles to go.

I would love your help in making Measure of Love a success by getting word out there about it or reading it yourself.  It feels less lonely to release something when you know it is being caught and held by others.  Please know that when you’ve done that, it has made a difference and, to me, speaks volumes.

I sometimes feel like curling up on the sofa with Truman and ignoring everything that needs to get done, and I give in to those desires more often than not.

I feel like everyone else read the operating manual that came with life and understood it, and I became overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the booklet and the confusing syntax and the precise instructions, which is why they know what to do in life — how to operate in life — and I am left stumbling along, trying to figure it out.

And I hope that in admitting all of this, you do not back away from me slowly, wondering how you have spent this much time — even virtually — with someone who really doesn’t have herself together, and instead stand your ground and say, “me too.”


1 Rachel Gurevich { 05.07.13 at 7:32 am }

Me, too. 🙂

2 TasIVFer { 05.07.13 at 7:48 am }

I’ve almost completely lost the plot lately. I don’t have my shit together, I’m not coping well at all. So yeah – me too.

But you remind me that I’d forgotten to review Measure of Love on Amazon; I just did so. I’m also getting it in paperback so I can read it in the bath (Kindles let me get it immediately but I can’t bathe with it!) – if I ever get my shit together enough to have time. But Life from Scratch is looking lonely on the shelf too now!

3 lostintranslation { 05.07.13 at 7:49 am }

Oh yeah, me too. Definitely.

I LOVED LOVED LOVED Measure of Love!! Meant to send you an email, but haven’t found the time yet – will do so at some point because I want to be a bit more nuanced than writing in all caps and with too many exclamation points (and I almost finished this with a smiley but that would really be too much).

And if I get my shit together I might even write a blog post about it (or at least mention what a great book it is).

4 Steadfast Warrior { 05.07.13 at 7:58 am }

So with you on this Mel! I certainly don’t think less of you for this admission, and if fact, I think even more highly of you. 😉 Sometimes, stumbling along is really the best we can do, and you know what? That’s okay!

5 Cait { 05.07.13 at 8:21 am }

Me too. (Meeeeeeee tooooooooo.)

6 Pepper { 05.07.13 at 8:34 am }

Me, too. Me, too. Me, too! I have spent a ridiculous amount of time while my daughter naps lately, curled up on my couch with my cat, because I don’t know what to do. And I not only loved Measure of Love, I have been talking it up all around town. And apparently my Amazon review helped someone else, which made me feel a little bit more together myself. 🙂

7 A.M.S. { 05.07.13 at 8:38 am }

I always have this feeling that I’ve just been faking it as I go and any day now someone, just like the little boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” is going to stand up, point at me and shout, “She’s not really an adult! Can’t you see she doesn’t know what she’s doing?”

8 Natalie { 05.07.13 at 8:44 am }

Definitely me too. I always wish I could have my calendar working smoothly and the bills always organized and categorized. My house being organized is a HUGE one, I think it’s a losing battle but I wash it anyways. I wish I could do meal plans for the week and always have the groceries I need on-hand. I wish I knew what I was going to do with the rest of my life, this “career” thing that I’ve avoided thus far. Confidence is not really one of my strong suits anyways…

9 a { 05.07.13 at 8:52 am }

I never have my shit together. And on top of that, I don’t care! 🙂 My husband claims that I’m one of the people who just drifts through life, having things handed to them, succeeding without effort. While I have to admit that a lot of things have come very easily to me, I’ve had to work for some things and the price of the karmic payout on others has been pretty steep. The problem for him, I think, is that when I do work at something, I generally succeed. But that’s because I’m not a huge risk taker – I only do new things where I’m fairly confident I can succeed or where it doesn’t make a difference whether I do or not. I guess what I have together is a pretty narrow, well-defined sense of priorities, and the rest of life can fall by the wayside. And the reason my priorities are narrow and well-defined is because I’m a control freak who knows that other people are unreliable, so I will not put parts of myself out for other people to affect.

In my job, I make the decision and have to be able to defend that decision. In your job, you create a product for others to judge. If I look like I have my shit together, workwise, it’s only because no one else has a say and I don’t make decisions unless I’m 100% confident that my peers would agree with said decision. There’s no way for you to attain that confidence level, really – I’m sure Shakespeare and Stephen King and John Green all felt as anxious about their latest work’s reception as you do about Measure of Love.

By the way, I forgot to mention that I loved Oona (she reminded me of a friend of mine) and her daughter’s reactions to everything made me cry…

10 Catwoman73 { 05.07.13 at 9:25 am }

Oh yeah. Me, too.

I don’t think anyone really has their shit together, and I’m suspicious of people who claim that they do. And I continue to read blogs and books written by people who don’t have their shit together because it reminds me constantly that I’m not alone. Not to mention- not having your shit together makes great art!!! Beethoven cut off his ear, Mozart drank himself to death, countless artists and writers have been deemed clinically insane, and even committed suicide… clearly, these people REALLY didn’t have their shit together. But that doesn’t diminish what they managed to accomplish. You can do great things even while struggling to hold yourself together. I really believe that.

I have just started reading Measure of Love, and so far, I’m loving it! I understand what you mean about constantly setting higher markers to reach in terms of measuring success. It’s human nature to do this, and the phenomenon even has a name- the hedonic treadmill. I wrote a blog post about it not long ago after watching a great documentary called ‘Happy’. While I don’t think one documentary is a cure for all human longing, it certainly moved me, and helped me redefine what success means to me.

Hugs Mel- your anxiety is understandable. I certainly wouldn’t dream of backing away because you don’t have your shit together… I actually appreciate all that you have accomplished even more because of it! 🙂

11 Chickenpig { 05.07.13 at 9:48 am }

You SO have your shit together compared to me. I could not, in a million years, maintain the blog rolls you do, write a book, raise twins, have a sparkly clean house, and still be sane.

But if you don’t think that you have your shit together…where does that leave ME? Oh shit… 😉

Do you see now what I mean by Measure of Love being better than Paper Towns? I read them both back to back more or less, and Paper Towns left me feeling kind of “Meh.” But the fact that I read a bunch of his stuff and was drawn to read Paper Towns says something, no? I really, really like his books. I’m drawn to certain bloggers the same way. I like their writing style, and I care what they have to say. I would read Atwood’s grocery list, she’s that good, and Toni Morrison? Anything at all. I feel the same way now about Green and you. I would pass another book over for your book because with you I know I will enjoy it, and my money and time are valuable to me. After I’m done with your book I’ll move on to that other one. And maybe that other one will win a big ole prize and I’ll think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread…or maybe I won’t. But I’m still going to like your book, even if I don’t like it as much as Measure of Love.

12 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 05.07.13 at 10:08 am }

I think some of this is cultural. In some places, being confident and trying to project the image that you have your shit together is a little off-putting. I’ve told you the story about my sister and the visiting academic from the US? This woman raved to my sister about how unbelievably smart the undergrads were in Australia compared to back home. My sister, who had not gained this impression, expressed skepticism. It transpired that the visitor mistakenly assumed that the students hiding up the back pretending to look dumb were the worst in the class, when in fact they were the best (and those looking perky and with-it down the front were the worst – they were allowed to project confidence because nobody would mistake them for people who had their shit together). My sister hastily and emphatically cleared up the misunderstanding, which in itself goes to show.

That said, I think you’re right. People rarely want to pass themselves off as being genuinely incompetent, at least when they’re in positions of responsibility. And I know I’ve given the impression of competence to people here and there which is, frankly, amazing.

Your book is on my list, having read the first one, if that helps!

13 Tiara { 05.07.13 at 11:01 am }

Me too!!

Why should I stick with a blogger who doesn’t feel sure of herself, or read the book of a writer who admits that she doesn’t really feel like she has her shit together? Because if you can create something as amazing as Measure of Love while not having your shit together, then it gives me hope that I too can do great things even though I don’t have my shit together. You make not having your shit together look good! & Like another commenter said, those who claim to have their shit together ar suspicious to me

Love you, Mel~hugs~

14 Irish Gumbo { 05.07.13 at 11:28 am }

Oh, lawd, does this ring a bell! Madam, I would not back away slowly. Instead, I will open the door and say “Come, join me and the others at the table. There is plenty of room, and the company is grand!”

I think many who truly don’t have their shit “wired tight” —as my dad would say—would not be able to admit it. I also believe you have to look at results, at outcomes. It also helps to keep in mind that everyone you meet—the doctor, baker, writer—is wrestling with this conundrum. If the bread tastes meh to you, then you know they don’t. If it tastes good, if it resonates with you, then you know do have it together; they are simply being human.

Finally, it is okay to think these things about ourselves. I burn a lot of energy doing that (just ask my girlfriend). The key thing is that we keep forging ahead. We will figure it out, and learn who we are in the process.

15 Jessica { 05.07.13 at 11:35 am }

Me, too! And, I take comfort in knowing I’m in such great company. Thanks for the ray of sunshine on an otherwise blah, blah, dreary day.

16 k { 05.07.13 at 11:48 am }

Oh Mel, you always do this to me. You post something that feels like it’s written directly towards me, and I am left wondering, “how did she know?” I told my best friend yesterday that I feel so LOST right now, and I look around and wonder why it seems like I’m the only one who can’t manage to make it all work.

17 Liz { 05.07.13 at 12:21 pm }

Oh honey. Can I call you honey? Maybe not. I don’t know you that well. The potentially inappropriate urge to call you honey comes from the tender compassion and gratitude I feel after reading your post.

Gratitude because my sh** is like the line in the Anna Nalick song: “Driving away from the wreck of the day / the light’s always red in the rearview.” Compassion because you are suffering and I know this suffering, but also, because I have this strong sense that really is all ok.

I think that excellent writing isn’t about being excellent (ok, maybe, in a teensy way, it is about *not* being terrible, but bear with me….). The writing we LOVE and the writers we turn to, again and again, are the ones who are human. That’s why we read. Because we’re human and we want to know we’re not alone. All those other layers of succeeding and doing well – just smoke/mirrors/glitter/gold, choose your cliche. But I know, I KNOW. I long to be a great writer. And that word, “great,” represents a huge jumble of oppressively complex expectations. So I have no good advice. I just want to say this:

“So the truth is that most of us are a little jagged on the inside, snagging on ourselves.”

is awesomely said & absolutely true. You rock.

I haven’t helped at all, have I? But you helped me. So thank you.

18 loribeth { 05.07.13 at 12:22 pm }

Me too. Looks like we have lots of company. ; ) I’d probably be more worried about you if you were supremely confident that you did have your shit together. People who claim they do are either (a) lying or (b) will be the most surprised (& find it the hardest to cope) when things start falling apart around them (as they inevitably, eventually do).

I downloaded the Kobo version of Measure of Love the other night and it is next on my reading list, as I plan to join in the book club discussions next month. 🙂 (Sadly, I couldn’t get my shit together enough to order Lori’s book in time for the book club, but will be reading that one soon too.)

19 Justine { 05.07.13 at 12:25 pm }

I definitely do not have my shit together. As I think you pretty well know. (Um…. hello … who’s the one who is unemployed, in therapy, and doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up, never mind actually blogging with any consistency.) You are welcome here … holding you in my heart, catching what you send out, and feeling grateful that you’re willing to stumble along with the rest of us.

And: I was in the middle of writing a post about vulnerability today. This fits perfectly. Mind if I jump on your train? 😉

20 Alicia { 05.07.13 at 12:56 pm }

Oh Mel – if YOU don’t have your shit together, then I can breathe a bit more easily for my own shortcomings b/c seriously, you are the queenpin of what I consider having your shit together.

In regards to Measure of Love – it’s on my next to read list. 🙂

21 Charlotte { 05.07.13 at 1:26 pm }

My shit’s a mess. All.The.Time. Thanks for the post, I needed the reminder that I am not alone. Good company, indeed : )

22 Ana { 05.07.13 at 1:32 pm }

Impeccable timing on this post. My shit has never been less together, and yet never more have I had to project a “shit together” appearance in so many different realms. Its all an elaborate ruse, that falls apart at 8pm every night. You can count me as a future reader of Measure of Love. Its on my “to buy” and “to read” list. (until I get my shit together and guy & read it).

23 Stupid Stork { 05.07.13 at 1:56 pm }

Me, too.

One, people who say they have their shit together are not to be trusted. Saying you don’t have your shit together makes me like you more, want to squeeze you and buy you a drink.

Second, it is my 100% belief that the best creative anything comes from people who do NOT go around pretending and/or believing that they totally have their shit together. I just think to see the world properly and describe it in a way that is beautiful you have to have at one time or another been laid flat on the ground. I truly believe all good art comes from a little or a lot of uncertainty and humility.

I have a giant list of books to be ordered on Amazon and yours is on it, lady. I’m excited.

24 Jamie { 05.07.13 at 5:46 pm }

Me too… And I’m totally ok with it :-).

25 Katie { 05.07.13 at 8:03 pm }

Same here. It just happens sometimes.

26 Blanche { 05.07.13 at 8:55 pm }

I just always figured that life manual was a myth. You mean to say it’s actually out there? That explains so much.

27 Sara { 05.07.13 at 9:02 pm }

I definitely do not have my shit together an it so nice to hear someone else say it, thank-you! Your book is on my list, just as soon as this school year is over!

28 Katherine A { 05.07.13 at 9:52 pm }

*Raises hand* Me too – my shit is definitely not all together.

And this is a great post…reminds me that everyone has their moments, including people like you that I admire quite a lot.

Just finishing up “Measure of Love” and really having a great time reading it (instead of tearing through it at my usual breakneck pace while reading, I’ve been trying to take the time to enjoy getting to know the characters…then midway through decided to go back and re-read “Life from Scratch” to reacquaint myself with Rachel so it’s been taking a little longer than usual).

29 Siochana { 05.07.13 at 10:22 pm }

I think in a way we are more attracted to writers/bloggers who DON’T have their shit together, because they are easier to relate to.

But actually, there is only one reason in common that I read the blogs I do: I like the writer’s voice. If I can imagine him/her sitting across from me, sharing cup of tea (or whatever) and chatting, then I’ll read the blog. I don’t really care if the writer has her shit together, if her opinions are the same as mine, or even that she is sharing helpful information. I just have to like the voice and feel like there is an interesting personality behind it.

30 md { 05.08.13 at 12:19 am }

ME TOO. and it seems like many others feel the same way. ever since moving to india, i constantly feel like i was never given the instruction manual for SO many things -for making friends, for being a good wife, daughter in law, and now mom, for cooking, cleaning… and the sad thing is that everyone else (here, in this city at least), seems to be doing much better than me. they totally have their stuff together. i have been wanting to write about this for the last couple of days in fact, on how i can try harder to get my act together.. but that would require getting my act together 😉

31 Brid { 05.08.13 at 12:47 am }

‘Togetherness’ (of shit) is a capitalist myth to ensure that we don’t think, create, or produce anything that doesn’t fit into the box that we are all demanded to fall into. You should be fucking proud if you don’t have your shit together because it would only mean that you’re conforming or striving to the same crap status quo that we are all led to believe we have to (and that goes for all of you wicked awesome bitches). They sell ‘getting your shit together’ so they can make us feel badly when we can’t do it. And if we feel bad, we’ll try harder to fit in. I find, generally speaking, if my shit’s together, I am less creative, less interesting, and overall, less me. Also, if you really want to know if you have your shit together, ask your kids… they’ll know the truth. So, that’s what I think of that. xo

32 Mali { 05.08.13 at 1:05 am }

I call this the “Fraud Syndrome.” I remember years ago seeing a successful business woman being interviewed, and she confided that she kept worrying that someone would discover she really wasn’t very good, and was a fraud! And I realised that I wasn’t the only one who felt insecure. I’ve also recently seen a friend change from full-time employment to self-employment, and consequently she’s going through crises of confidence. And yet I always thought her confidence and optimism was bottomless. Oh yes, we all suffer from this. Some of us (perhaps writers, rather than pilots to use another example) are better able to express it, and be heard. But I’d rather a pilot was extra careful on take-off and landing than one who was over-confident and thought they were infallible.

33 Juanita { 05.08.13 at 3:04 am }

Yip – ME TOO!!!

34 Lori Lavender Luz { 05.08.13 at 3:49 pm }

I think in the DSM-V it says that if one says they totally have their sh!t together, that indicates that they don’t. If, however, they say, that sometimes they don’t have their sh!t together, that is the strongest indicator that they do.

Or maybe not. I don’t have my sh!t together.

I completely understand your last several paragraphs. Me, too, except for the Truman part (only because I don’t have a Truman).

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