I Could Do Better

by Mark Ivar Myhre on October 5, 2010

“I could do better than that.”

If I have to hear him say that one more time, I’m gonna strangle him.
Or so I told myself.  Actually, I had to hear it almost every single day.  And as far as I know, he’s still alive.

We were painting houses together, making about 9 or 10 bucks an hour.  Back when you could live on that much.  (Yeah, I’m that old.)

We were both employees in Gainesville for a local painting contractor.

Except I had to listen to this idiot talk about how he could write better than whichever columnist or humorist had the misfortune of being critiqued at that particular moment.

“This column sucks.  I could write better than that,” he would say.

“BUT YOU NEVER DO!!!!” I would think to myself, being too mild-mannered at the time to tell him what I really thought.  (Fortunately, age has loosened my tongue.  Trust me on that.)

Anyway, I stewed while he whined.

And if his fingernails-scraping-down-the-blackboard voice wasn’t bad enough… keep in mind he was getting paid ‘good money’ to sit there and read the paper while I was taking up his slack.  At least one of us had to be working.

“Hey Mark, I’m a writer.”

That’s funny.  Cause you look like a potbellied walrus who’s fallen into a cesspool of yesterday’s Budweiser. But who am I to judge?

One time when I did muster the courage to say something, he told me over and over, “Mark, I can paint all those windows in an hour.”

Yeah, but you can’t paint ONE in a DAY!!!  I’m serious.  He spent all day long talking about how he could paint all the windows in an hour, but he never painted ONE the whole day.  I painted them all myself.  And it took me more than an hour.

Here’s the irony:  In addition to not doing much painting – as far as I know, he never took pen to paper and wrote a single word.  It was always ‘in potentia’. It was always what he ‘could’ do.  But never what he DID do.

I don’t blame him.  It’s no fun being criticized for your work.  Just the other day I got an email that said:

“Your writing is <expletive deleted>.  I could do better than this.”

Well of course you could!  Hell, I could too.  But I don’t.  I wanted to give you something to feel superior about.

(But that’s just me.  Always thinking of the other guy…)

The way I see it, there’s two main problems with living your life in potential.

First, when you go around talking about how ‘you could do better’ – that’s actually a form of self-pity.  Yes, self-pity.  I first noticed it years ago with the walrus.  He was consumed with feeling sorry for himself.  (Since obviously I wasn’t going to feel sorry for him.)

So he had to carry the load of pity around on his own shoulders.  Poor walrus.

I became an expert on self-pity.  I studied him carefully, (since it was easier than looking at my own!)

I saw how the pity literally stooped his shoulders.  I saw it in his eyes and on his face.  I heard it in his voice.  I noticed it in his mannerisms.

And one of those mannerisms was to always talk about how he could do it better.  Curiously enough, he actually thought he was a better painter than me.  That’s how bad it got.

(Now I’ll admit, he did get more paint on his clothes.  And he could drink more beer.  But come on!)

Anyway, here’s a good way to flush self-pity out of your body.  I know you don’t need it for yourself, but maybe – just maybe – you might know someone who does.


And here’s the other problem with living your life in potential:

Often times, it’s used as a faulty source of self esteem.

Keep in mind, you need self esteem.

And when I say you ‘need’ self esteem, what I mean is, you NEED self esteem.  To live.  You would flat-out die – you would not survive – if you truly had no self esteem.

Nothing would be worth the effort because you would be worth nothing.  You would have no reason to get out of bed in the morning.  No reason to eat.  No reason to not step out in front of a bus.  (Assuming you even got out of bed in the first place.)

Since you need self esteem to live, that also means you’re going to have to acquire it somehow.  It doesn’t come automatically, like self worth does.

Self esteem is earned; not given.  (Self worth, on the other hand, is given and can’t be earned.  Many people get that backwards.)

If you don’t know how to acquire self esteem the right way, then you’ll seek out a faulty source of esteem. And talking about ‘what you’re gonna do’ is one of the ways to seek out faulty esteem.

“Someday I’m going to write a book.”

“I’m going to start trying harder to be a better husband, wife, son, daughter, employee, boss, poker player, whatever.”

Now of course there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be a better person.  I do it all the time.  But NOT as a source of my self esteem.

Also, talking about what you ‘could’ do.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with thinking about what you could do.  Just don’t use it as a way to try to get self esteem.

Hey, I could be a better writer.  I just choose to be mediocre instead.  But I don’t play around when it comes to my self esteem.  It’s way too important.  Here’s what I do:


By the way, I ran into ol’ walrus the last time I was in Gainesville.  We had a nice talk.  He was glad to see me.  But he didn’t look too good; a man beaten down by self pity.

I never even mentioned I make my living as a writer.  Why rub it in?

Here’s how I got enough self esteem so I don’t need to brag to old acquaintances:


{ 1 comment }

Martty April 25, 2011 at 12:10 am

You do what you do SO WELL!!!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: