Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
What do you do best?
It’s a tough question. I was recently asked this while appearing on a local television show. I consider myself lucky to have had the subject broached in such a non-threatening environment as in front of a camera for public access television, which sends out billions of charged particles to a couple dozen living rooms where boob tubes have been left on for lighting effect.
In coming up with an answer, my mind raced through gray matter that must have turned to sand underneath the taxpayer-funded studio lights because thoughts weren’t getting much traction. This wasn’t because I had so many choices to mull over, either.
Just before the short period of time expired after which a question like this becomes uncomfortable instead of amusing and one wishes to get off the spot, I confidently said that skiing is what I was best at. I assure you that this wasn’t bragging because, compared with almost everything else I do in my life, skiing is the easiest. It’s actually a cop out and why sometimes on cold, gray days in February I feel like a failure. The response was lame and trite and I wished I had said something else.
It might have been a good answer 30 years ago when skiing was a bold “career choice” for ruddy-faced college dropouts living out of VW vans and washing dishes at night to support the habit, but since it has become a realtor-promoted lifestyle for retired baby boomers, the best I can say about it is that it’s fun.
I could have said that being a father is what I did best. This crossed my mind for a second, but as stupid as saying that I’m best at skiing sounded, saying that I’m best at being a father would have been an outright lie, and tempted fate as my kids enter their teen years. If there is one thing that I have learned since the day my first child was born it is that great fathers have toddlers and humble, gray-haired fathers have teenagers. When your children become smarter than you are, it is very difficult to appear adequate, much less great, and most efforts in that direction are utterly counterproductive.
Besides, the best way I can think of to judge whether or not parents are successful is by observing their children. I have great kids. And, that is how I know there is a flaw to relying on this criterion. To take credit for children’s good character is parental arrogance at its glaring worst. When wayward progeny falter, mothers and fathers throughout the ages have shrugged their shoulders exasperatedly, consoling themselves that they did everything possible so that things might have turned out otherwise. Who could doubt that? So, when our children end up being well adjusted, good, and decent, I think it’s only fair that we who raised them meekly admit that this occurred in spite of our efforts, as well.
Nearly the same thing can be said about being a good husband. At best, a man can take credit for only half of any success at that job. More often a husband comes across as adept in marriage mostly because he has a loving wife who puts up with him and allows him to carry on oblivious to his flawed ways, guiding him gently away from making an ass out of himself as the many opportunities in life to do so occur. If she’s pretty and charming, it’s a huge bonus because then nobody pays much attention to him as he flounders about anyway. I am not a great husband, just grateful.
No matter what, I wouldn’t want to say that the best thing I do is my work. To be considered the best at a job, usually the main criteria revolve around how much money you make doing it. No one at the top of any of the myriad lists of successful business people that I’ve seen got there based on how satisfied they are with their career or how content they are with only an average salary. When I die, if the mourners and revelers agree that the thing I was truly exceptional at was my career, I’ll gladly take my assigned spot in Hell with the other wasters of life and the hedge fund managers.
In truth, I would like to say that writing is what I do best. It is certainly one of the activities I enjoy most. Yes, I make a little money at it so some might consider it to be work, but I have never written anything just for a check, although sometimes I’m sure it appears that I do, and in commensurate quality with the amount of remuneration I received for it.
In writing, as with skiing, I feel the thrill of taking big chances, not quite certain of knowing what will happen. The occasional spectacular crash in front of the entire town hurts, but lots of people seem to enjoy it, I get tons of e-mails and other attention, and then I can’t help feeling that maybe that’s what good writing is all about. On the other hand, when I happen to write something that everybody loves, I spend the better part of ensuing days wondering how I could have screwed up the piece so badly as to be completely misunderstood. So it goes. You can’t win at this game and that’s why it is as addicting as gambling and I don’t hold much hope of ever walking away from the table ahead.
The question of what we are best at is mostly illusory. When compared with only ourselves, everything we do we are the best at. If compared with everyone else, there is nothing we are the best at. It’s a neurotic person’s nightmare. So, I can only conclude that the question of what we are best at is silly. I am going to consider myself fortunate if what makes me happiest is not what I am best at. That way I’ll have things to enjoy that I look forward to getting better at. I think if you stop improving at something, you’ll get bored with it and quit, like I did with snowboarding. And that gets right to the point. The real question is: What do I enjoy doing?
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“If I was moving through the herd, the others would begin walking away, some of them at a jog, taking their calves with them, but the big brown ungulate would face me sideways, reluctant to move, not wanting to give any ground,” writes Tony Vagneur.