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Shelby: When I started this Podcast, my hope was that by listening to the stories of other people going for it, you would have the courage to go for it, whatever it was for you. I wanted to encourage you to go for it because when I went for it, it completely changed my life. If you listen to episode 104 with waterman Brian Keaulana, you've heard a little bit about my story that started back in 2009.
I had an awesome job, but I wanted to do something totally different. I was in a 5-year relationship that I wanted out of and I was searching for the courage to actually do something about my situation. I started freelance writing on the side and hearing stories of adventurers pursuing their passions, taking risks, and going for it. I started to gain the courage to pursue the life I wanted.
I built up the courage to end the relationship, to quit the job, and to embark on a whole new career. I've gotten some feedback from listeners who have said that some of the things that guests come on here and talk about seem unattainable, and I totally get it. This show isn't about dangling off of cliffs, or dropping into 50-foot waves, or running ultra-marathons, though.
If it inspires you to do any of these things, more power to you. It's really about getting some inspiration to start infusing a little more adventure into your day-to-day life. To choose to start living with intention whatever that means for you. I'm Shelby Stanger and this is Wild Ideas Worth Living.
In this episode, I've brought on two experts to talk about the important things in life and the art of being more okay with where you are now. Karen Rinaldi now enters the exclusive club of repeat guests. She's worked in the publishing industry for nearly three decades and she's a publisher at Harper Wave. She's also a long-time writer herself who just published It's Great To Suck At Something, a book with an awesome title about how she learned to love sucking at surfing. It was originally published as an essay in New York Times. First, I wanted to talk to Karen about why she decided to write this book.
Well, I love this because I'm a big fan of Thich Nhat Hahn and I know you talk about his book. They say in Buddhism that suffering is not accepting where you are right now and that there is this ultimate freedom when you do accept where you are right now. I've been doing so many podcasts on self-improvement and always being better and it can be exhausting. Sorry to you listeners.
It's not my intention. My intention is living wildly, is accepting who you are and finding happiness whatever that is. That's why I'm so grateful for this book. It's such a good story. You've been a publisher for 30 years published everybody's books. Many of the guests I've had on have been with Harper Wave and even some of your past publishing careers. Why did you decide to write this book after 30 years of publishing?
Karen: Yes, it's a good question. I know so much about publishing that talk about a leap of faith to step onto the other side. I have been writing longer than I was in publishing. I guess I was writing before I got a job in publishing. Though literature and writing and books have always been really really important to me. Weirdly, I wrote and I used to put everything away. I never wrote to publish and I'll explain why in a second.
I wrote things because I loved to write, but I sucked at it. Frankly, I wasn't very good at it. I knew what good writing was because I was a reader and became an editor and publisher. I just wasn't ready to have my stuff put out in the world until I felt like it was going to be not great, but acceptable. I knew what that was because I was in the world.
I have been writing and putting it away and writing and putting it away and then I'd written a novel years ago that I'd put in the drawer and then a movie was made out of it. Because a movie was made from it, it was called Maggie's Plan Directed by Rebecca Miller, produced, directed, written by Rebecca Miller. It was based on my novel.
What happened, and this is kind of crazy, it kind of pulled me out of the closet as a writer. I was very reluctant to publish the novel, but people really wanted it because they loved the movie. We wound up publishing that novel a couple of years ago. It sort of opened the floodgates of, "Okay, maybe I'm ready to do this." I wrote the essay for the New York Times, It's Great To Suck At Something, by the way, that piece was 8 years in the making, somebody had asked me when I published it.
This is great for all the people who suck out there. I'm trying to convince you to embrace that because someone asked me, "What do you do? Just write an essay and send it to The Times and they print it?" and I'm going, What? No. That's not what happens." I tried to write that essay, well, for like 8 years. I kept writing and throwing it out, writing and throwing it out. I knew I wanted to say something, but it just took me a while to find the right measure of everything.
Once I hit it, I went, "Yes, this is it." Then I sent it to a contact I had and then we went through the process of it. It wound up getting picked up. Then what happened is that the piece got so much- it seemed to touch a lot of people. I didn't know if it was going to make people uncomfortable saying, 'Hey, it's great to suck at something," or if people were going to say "Yes. Thank you. I suck too," or "I want to suck," or "I've been too fearful to start something."
My heart was so full from the responses that I got. Then I talked to my agent and my agent said, "That's the book. That's the book. That's the one you got to write." I was "Okay, I'm ready." That's how it happened and then I spent the next year and a half writing it.
Shelby: That's awesome. I really appreciate that because I've written since I was 15. I started writing and publishing, but I'm working on this book idea that has surfing in it in Costa Rica in it until I was 22. I just put it away and I'm like, "This has been over." Jaimal Yogis told me, the guy who wrote Saltwater Buddha and The Fear Project and he's been on the Podcast and he said "Yes, I had this friend who one day took a book out of the closet and it became a movie," and he was talking about you. This personally means a lot to me. If any of you have something that you have been working on for years, maybe you shelve it, maybe there's a life out there.
Karen: Yes, I mean it's okay. What I love about writing is that for any of the writers out there, all writers even published writes will suck at writing. There is nothing that's going to get you more acquainted with sucking than writing because most of what we write we throw out. Most of what we write gets edited. Most of what we write gets put away never to see the light of day. So little of what writers write actually gets put in the world.
Now I think for journalists, it's slightly different, for creative writers it's different, for poets it's different. There are nuances across the spectrum of the different kinds of writing, but basically writing's hard. It's like surfing. What is that crazy statistic that even good surfers, great surfers surf about 8% of the time that they're in the water? Partly because they have to wait for the wave, we know the story, so you have to wait for the wave and there have to be waves and then you have to take turns and you have to have priority, blah, blah, blah.
For me, forget it. It's like 0.0008% because I hardly catch any waves. You kind of think writing and surfing. They're two awesome things to suck at and you have to set your expectations low, but keep at it anyway. If you keep at it, eventually you'll write something good enough to be published. Eventually, for me, I'll catch a wave and it just rocks my day or my week. I'll ride a wave in my head for weeks and weeks afterwards if I catch a good one.
Shelby: You don't totally suck. We surfed together in Costa Rica. I enjoyed surfing with Karen and she definitely caught some good waves.
Karen: Well, with your help.
Shelby: I love this book. It's Great to Suck at Something: The Unexpected Joy of Wiping Out and What It Can Teach Us About Patience, Resilience, and the Stuff that Really Matters. I read it so fast and it's so rare for me to read a book in a sitting. I knew so many of the characters and the setting and it was just so awesome. I thought you should just start with reading. I love the introduction.
Karen: Great. I can do that. Let's say you don't already suck at something. First of all, that's delusional. Even if it is somehow true, I'm going to show you how you're missing out on something wonderful. In this book, I'm going to encourage you to find and embrace something you suck at. I want to share with you just how great it can be to suck at something: to really, really struggle to do something unremarkable, uncelebrated, and without much to show for it.
To do that unremarkable thing with love and with hope in your heart. To do it with joy. I know this joy firsthand because I surf, and I'm bad at it. Surfing isn't a new kick, it's not a phase. I'm not in that honeymoon period of surfing when I'm trying it out, seeing if I'll get the hang of it, romancing it. By any objective measure, it's a big part of my life and has been for a while.
I've been surfing eight months out of 12 for 17 years, and yes, to those devoted surfers out there reading this, you have every right to scoff. I've arranged my middle-aged life around getting in the water as much as I can. I chose a career path that would allow me to pursue it, risked hard earned money to support it, and coerced my family into a lifestyle only some of us appreciate. I still suck at surfing.
I love it. I think, in its way, it loves me back. I've put so much of myself into the waves over the years, but no matter how much I give, I always get more back. It's an unfair exchange in my favor, and it has nothing to do with my aptitude. You too have this potential to suck at something. It doesn't take anything more than just being yourself, having a bit of courage, a sense of humor, and a willingness to start something new, or to return to something old, to start growing again, even if the end result won't get you in any record books. This book won't make you a master of anything.
Shelby: I love this. I think for people who maybe don't surf, there are so many things we can suck at.
Karen: Yes, it's endless, this list of things we can suck at. I think anything, any hobby, any interest, it doesn't even have to be physical, it can be more sedentary, it can be intellectual. I had a great response from the New York Times essay that I wrote on the subject a couple years ago.
One of my favorite ones was a guy who wrote in and said, " Oh my god, thank you for writing this. I'm 70 years old and I'm passionate about ancient languages. I'm studying ancient Greek and Latin, and I really suck at it, but it makes me happy." I thought, "That is just perfect." I love that my surfing related in some way to his studying ancient Greek and Latin. I thought, "Yes, that's the point, that's the point. Do something you love. It doesn't matter if you're good at it."
Shelby: There's a story that you told in the beginning of the book. It was about your son who wasn't very good at writing, and your husband, he gave him some sage words. Can you just share that story, because I think a lot of us can relate to that.
Karen: Yes. It's also the genesis of this idea. It wasn't that my husband was there, but it was actually a friend, a mutual friend and the father of a fellow student. My son, Rocco-- For those of you who read the book, you'll see a lot of Rocco in this book because I surf with him mostly. At that time, Rocco was about 8 years old. He had some fine motor skill and sensory issues. He couldn't write, he literally could not hold a pen or a pencil and write his homework.
It caused him pain, it caused him frustration. He understood the lessons that he was being taught, but he couldn't write them down. It became an issue that we had to deal with every year in grammar school. One day, we were outside of the school and this John, his name was John, we were talking and he said, "How's Rocco doing in school this year?" Rocco was standing right next to me.
I said, "He's doing okay, but he's having some trouble with his handwriting and he's really frustrated by it. I looked at Rocco and he looked at me. Then John just had this amazing look on his face of just acceptance and love. He looked at Rocco and he puts his hands in his pocket, and he looks up to the sky and he goes, "Yes, Rocco, it's so great to suck at something." I watched Rocco's face just light up. My heart burst, and I thought, "Ahh, that's it." That was the opening, that was forgiveness, acceptance. There was so much in that statement.
At the time, I was learning to surf. I was only a couple of years in, and I was, "Well, you know I suck at it." There's a lot of that in these pages as well. I was really struggling and thinking, "Why am I doing this, should I give up?" John's words not only gave Rocco permission to suck at handwriting, which is something essential, by the way, but he worked around it, but it gave me permission to just keep sucking at surfing and do it anyway.
Then Rocco went on to be the valedictorian of his high school class without needing to hand write. He still can't hand write. He's in college and he can't read his own notes. Well, that's how bad it is. It just doesn't matter. He has straight A's in college, he does really well, but he learned to cope. I think the idea of this sucking at something that is essential gave me the idea that maybe sucking at something that isn't essential can actually teach us something, and teach us coping mechanisms. Really that's what the whole book is about, is what we do learn from pursuing something that we won't be good at, but we do it anyway.
Shelby: David Romanelli is a writer and thought leader who also published a book Full of Life Lessons. His career spans from opening yoga studios and doing meditation to being an entrepreneur and a writer. When he lost his last surviving grandparent in 2010, his perspective on aging was then shifted. Tell us how you just got started in the wellness and yoga. A little bit about your journey.
David: Okay. After college, I was living in LA, I was working for a sports agent. I was working for Shaquille O'Neal's agent. I took a yoga class with my buddy who was in law school. It was Shawn Corn's yoga class. She has gone on to become this very renowned yoga teacher. It was this incredibly, physically challenging, sweating like crazy, but also deeply awakening and spiritual, and I was hooked.
I didn't realize that you could do something spiritual and great workout at once. This was when yoga was in the '90s when it was still stodgy, and people in leotards and incense sticks. It wasn't mainstream yet. There was lines down the block to get into the certain yoga classes in LA. My friend and I said, "Let's quit our jobs, this yoga thing is going to take off."
We moved somewhere where there was no yoga, Phoenix. We opened the first boutique yoga studio in the country. We got rid of the senior guru, we cranked the hip hop music, we advertised all over Phoenix with billboards that said, "Breath," invited the local news crew to come and do their morning live shot of people doing down dog and yoga, and it took off. We opened three studios. It was a small-- Shane called that one Yoga and we sold it in 2010 to Lifetime Fitness. That's how I got started in wellness.
Shelby: I had no idea. That's so interesting. Yoga for you, obviously, probably has meant a lot of things. How did yoga and teaching yoga, and owning these yoga studios then lead to book-writing?
David: Then I started teaching yoga, a lot of yoga, and then I evolved into teaching workshops all over the country. The idea was, how do you get more and more people doing yoga? I started writing a blog and I loved the storytelling component of teaching yoga class more than anything. I started to piece together those themes into my first book, which came out in 2009. It was about what goes on behind the scenes in the life of a yoga teacher.
Shelby: Were you trying to take a little bit of the old school wisdom and make it digestible and fun for people now?
David: Yes, because now Yoga is so mainstream, but back then, it was how do you explain to people that this is something that can change your life and open you, and it is very relatable, and it is something that you can integrate into your day-to-day? Yes, that's exactly right. That's always been my MO, is how do you take old wisdom and make it more relevant to people in the modern day?
Shelby: You wrote that first book, and now Life Lessons From The Oldest And Wisest? How did you start getting interested in The Wisdom of Elders?
David: My last surviving grandparent was in a senior living center in Los Angeles. I noticed how depressing those places can be. She was depressed. All the people in there, they lacked a voice in popular culture. They were sort of put out to pasture in this old-age place. They weren't in the flow of everyday life. It was like a different experience. I think that was depressing for them. Yet all these older people, they had so much wisdom and so much history and nobody was asking them for it. They just felt like a disconnect. I thought that was very interesting and not right. We have to do better than that.
Shelby: You got interested in The Wisdom Of Elders from your relative, but then you met this 111-year-old woman?
David: My wife and I moved to New York City in 2011, and I found this charity that helps older people in need. Their oldest client was this lady. When I met her she was 108, she lived to be 111. She was what they call a supercentenarian. There are 7 billion people on the planet, there is only about 60 at any one time who are 110 older. It's really, really rare.
Shelby: Supercentenarian?
David: Supercentenarian, yes.
Shelby: Love that.
David: A lot of it is just the genetics, but some of it is attitude, which I learned from this lady, Catherine was her name. She lived in a third-storey walkup. She walked down three flights of stairs everyday until she was 104. Then she was confined to her apartment. I just learned a lot from her. She had just a great sense of humor. She was married five times--
Shelby: Yes, she had the appetite.
David: The appetite and resilience too.
Shelby: Good for her.
David: Resilience, I think that was a big message.
Shelby: Five times, I hope I made it made five times to see John.
That's amazing. Five times, what a legend.
David: Yes, but the greatest lesson that I asked her, "What were your health tips? How did you get to be so old?" She did not say a gluten-free diet, she did not say low-carb diet-
Shelby: Or granges.
David: She didn't do Yoga and she didn't meditate. Her three tips were sex, vodka, and spicy food. [French language ] was my favorite lesson from her. Losing your grip on life and let the magic in.
Shelby: Have some sex, some more chocolate, and some spicy food?
David: Yes.
Shelby: Gosh, that's funny. She sounds great. She must have really made a mark on you.
David: What you just saw, here's a lady at the very end of life who is vibrant and happy. Her blood pressure was lower than the 50-something-year-old Jamaican lady who was taking care of her. She just was a unique-
Shelby: That's interesting.
David: Yes, a unique human being. How did she get to do that? Well, what were her secrets? A lot of it was just that she allowed herself to enjoy the journey of life. I think that the way of most of us, myself included, the way we're living now, our days are so busy. We put our head on the pillow, go to sleep at night and, sometimes, you don't remember a single thing that happened. Squeezed so tight that you squeeze all the joy in the spirit out of life.
Shelby: I get a little bit of heat on the podcast. Some people saying, "Hey, some of your podcasts make me feel bad." I think the thing is a lot of podcasters, I'm guilty of this myself, is we're doing all these podcasts on how to improve ourselves. Constantly improving, constantly setting goals. I'm going to continue to do something on improving but, really, it can be just exhausting. Sometimes, it's just okay to just enjoy what we have. It sounds like this lady taught you a lot about that.
David: Not just the lady, but then, I did a deep dive. So much of it is the lessons that I've learned are what you've got is really all you need and are you making the most of your relationships because they don't last forever? Are you taking the time every day to enjoy your life? Are you bouncing back from setbacks because every human being on the planet's going through their own challenges? It's not everyone that gets up when they get knocked down. There's a lot of lessons like that, basically, put into perspective that you've got what you need to live a good life, it's just that we're constantly pressing for more and that is not sustainable.
Shelby: I wanted to ask both these authors, read books about what's important in life, what lessons we can take away from them. Rather than striving for perfection, how can we strive for a life well lived? One thing I want to work on is continuing to build a greater gratitude practice. Also, continuing to develop and have a good sense of humor, even when I'm feeling less than average. In this book, during your own sucking and surfing, you had a really, pretty crappy thing that happened to you, cancer.
Karen: Yes, cancer sucks.
Shelby: What did that teach you about sucking even more.
Karen: It taught me a lot about vulnerability in ways that I didn't accept or understand before. I had been previously injured surfing and I feel vulnerable when I'm in the ocean, I really do. When I'm in water, that's too heavy for me. I do get scared. I try to get comfortable with that vulnerability and knowing what my limits are, but surfing is a choice. You decide to paddle out or not, you go for that wave or you don't, you go over the falls or, well, or you go for the wave and you're wiped out. Whatever that is, it's your choice.
Cancer was like one of those things that you go, "This is not in my list of things I thought would happen to me," and so you feel very vulnerable, of course, because you have no control. My year of having cancer really sucked because a lot of things went wrong and it taught me, again, vulnerability. It taught me how, and this counter-intuitive and it's complicated, but I never understood gratitude practice where people are grateful for all of the things that happened to them.
Gratitude practice, we start with the things that are good in our lives: the love we have, the friends we share, the health we have, and all of that. That's a really good practice and we all do it, I think, in our own way or hope we all do it in our way. Being grateful for that crap thing that happens to you is hard, and I never understood it. I did not, I was like, "I don't understand it, I know there's this theory, but it doesn't make sense to me."
Getting cancer and having really everything go wrong that year, and you think the bar can't get lower and then it gets lower. Then, you go, "Okay, I'm lying on the couch and I, basically feel like I'm dying because I have so much chemo in me. I can't move." I thought, "What's left? I don't know. Am I going to be okay, am I not going to be okay?"
I got hit with this wave of gratitude and I thought, "Wow, how does that happen? Where is that coming from?" I didn't know. I realize I'd just been so broken open in some way that what I allowed to rush in was gratitude.
It was gratitude that I had, at that point, a family who cared about me. I had a couch to lay on even though I couldn't move and I had the treatment that was available because, by the way, that's not true for everyone. Then, I thought, "Well, how do you be grateful even in going beyond that?" It had me thinking a lot about these things. Then, the other thing it taught me was that, one of the things that I was afraid of, is like "Am I going to die, am I going to be able to surf again?"
Those are really two of my things. I don't want to die because I've got kids and I want to see them grow up, and have more time with them. "Oh my God, what if I can't surf again?" That was like, "Well, dammit. I'm going to do it." The other thing it taught me is like how to just kick your own butt to do the thing that you want to do, even though I was never good at it. I was going to have to start all over at the very beginning at the thing I sucked at anyway.
That proved to me, somehow, that's, "Okay, I'm resilient. I can do this. My body can get back." It took me a few years, actually, to get my body back. I got in the water four weeks after mastectomy and the end of chemo, but that was not a good session. That's in the book, but it took me a couple of years and I was back at it.
Shelby: Well, thank you for sharing that. I'm so glad you're okay.
Karen: Yes, as far as we know. As far as anyone knows, right?
Shelby: Exactly. I think the thing is like when you don't have your health, that's like the hardest thing. There's a lot of people who don't have their health right now, and that's challenging.
Karen: Yes, it's hard. I think the idea is that you don't have your health and what you want to try to do is do everything you can around that disability, that sickness, that limitation, and push through it as much as you can, and then to surrender to when you can't. That surrender is hard, it's hard. There were times when I couldn't even walk to the sand on our beach. I was so sick. I literally couldn't because I would try to push myself, I'm like, "I'm going to go surfing." It's like I could barely get to the water's edge because walking through the sand was hard.
I thought, "All right, well, I'll walk to the sand and then I'll walk back." You just have to accept that limitation. That acceptance was a great, I don't want to call a lesson because that's hitting it too hard, but it's a kind of humility that, in the face of something, that you learn to have.
Shelby: I think these are really good things to have: acceptance, gratitude, and then there's this third element, which is having a sense of humor. If you can laugh at yourself, that's a game changer. Talk to me about how humor fits into all these.
Karen: Really the end of all of this is that life is funny, if you can find the humor in even the tough stuff. I mean, a lot of it is in the tough stuff. Some of it is dark humor and some of it is just not setting a bar so high for yourself or not taking- it's almost like not thinking that everybody is-- People think that everybody is watching you and judging you and you have to perform all the time as opposed to just letting go of that idea of what people are thinking about you because they're not. Judging yourself because that doesn't get you anywhere and just finding it funny. I have one episode in the book where I get fined by my board, I get very injured. It was in a place that I, probably, should be too polite to name on the podcast.
Shelby: Oh, you can name it.
Karen: It was right between my legs. The fin I had a longboard fin impale me. It was between the legs. I literally cut myself another one and it was serious, but it was so freaking funny. I couldn't walk, I had to shuffle for weeks. Everything turned black down there. I had 17 stitches. I went to the emergency room and it was so great because the whole emergency room was just in hysterics, they thought it was the funniest thing they'd ever heard.
Shelby: Yes, I could imagine the jokes people must have made about that.
Karen: [laughs] Oh my God. There's a lot of humor.
Shelby: I think that's great. We're in a time where I think we need humor more than ever, but it's hard to have humor in the United States right now.
Karen: Yes it is.
Karen: You can be jailed for making fun of certain things, but humor to me is just the cure to everything.
David: There's this lady who I do these drinks with your elders events around the country, where I bring older people together with younger people and we have a glass of wine and we talk about life. There's this one event in Dallas and this Lorena shared a story with us. She showed at the event first of all and she thought it was an event for widows because she was a widow. Then she saw these young people drinking wine and I had to explained to her that it was an intergenerational gathering, it wasn't widows.
Shelby: [laughs] Sorry, I know I shouldn't laugh, that's funny.
David: It was funny. She proceeded to tell us about how she lost her first husband at a very young age and she had young children. Then she overcame that and she got married another time. She was so happy and blissed-out and life was amazing and then her second husband died of a heart attack. It was just brutal. It was just so brutal and everyone at the event was feeling her pain.
The room was silent and people stopped sipping their wine and sat there with heavy hearts. Then she told a story, where it was the evening before the memorial service and she was with her family and everyone was together and fooling around. Her sister's 19-year-old six foot two grandson was on the floor playing. She said, "He didn't see me and he clipped me on the knees and I flew backward and broke my femur bone."
She's as if she hadn't been through enough already then she breaks her femur bone. She said they put a rod in there and some screws. With a straight face she said, "I was screwed by rod and I didn't like it." She totally pierced the weight of the moment and had everyone in hysterics. Then she said it's a hard world to live in, you have to laugh in life. I thought that was such great advice because there is always something that's causing us pain.
The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said, "sometimes joy is the source of your smile but sometimes the smile is the source of your joy." I always interpreted that to mean "fake it till you make it." As Lorena finished her story that night in Dallas, we lifted out wine glasses high in the air and the toast was to life to love, to laughter.
Shelby: Hello there. I'm big fan of laughing even when things are hard and I'm a big fan of Thich Nhat Hanh. That's really cool.
We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll hear more from David and Karen about the important things in life. I just heard about a new podcast about nature called The Wild, by the folks at KUOW in Seattle. It's hosted by Chris Morgan an ecologist and filmmaker who gets up close to all kinds of animals, from wolves, mountain lions to beavers.
On one of the episodes, he talks about the first time he caught a grizzly bear. The Wild uncovers the surprising connections we share with animals in the wild around us. It does it in a way that highlights the resilient power of nature and the wonder of the outdoors. I'm excited to check it and you can too at That's or wherever you get your podcast.
One thing I really had to work on even with this podcast is getting over perfectionism. It's hard and even scary to put something out into the world when you feel like there'a a million tweaks and little changes that could always be made. According to Karen, being a perfectionist is just an excuse to not do something scary.
I want to talk more about sucking. One of the opposite parts of sucking, and you mentioned it, is you have to let go of perfectionism. There's this line in the book where you say, "Perfectionism is a trap, it's fear." I love that you say, "Anyone critical of themselves is always critical of others." If there's someone you know who's just so critical, they're probably beating themselves up all day anyway so just let that person go.
Karen: That is great, that's great advice and that's well said. This is something that's stuck in my craw from years ago where people say, "I'm such a perfectionist that." It's always fill in excuse. "I'm such a perfectionist that I can't finish anything. I'm such a perfectionist that I won't start." I always felt sad when I heard that from people and I thought, "Really? Are you really a perfectionist? Are the other things that you do, do perfect?" I don't think anything I do is perfect, there is nothing that even comes close to it.
Then when you dig into it, Alfred Adler, who was an early 20th century Viennese psychologist, did a lot of writing about this idea of perfection, which he says is a very innate striving. Because if we didn't strive, we would never learn anything. As children, as babies, you have to constantly strive to talk, to walk, to move, to have agency, to do things. That striving can get convoluted by this idea of attaining perfection.
He talks about something called there's this abnormal striving for perfection and normal striving for perfection. The normal striving for perfection says, "I'm going to try to improve." By the way, sucking at something has that normal striving, not for perfection, but a normal striving. You keep doing it because you want to get better, and by the, way you will. It's just that getting better doesn't mean you're going to be great at it.
Then I'm saying, let that go completely. The abnormal striving for perfection says, and there have been recent studies on this that I can't just cite just offhand but they're out there. The studies basically say that the abnormal striving is really a person's feeling that they won't be loved unless they are perfect. Of course, since you can't ever be perfect it's feeling that you're not lovable. It's a trap and it's a heartbreak.
If we understand that this striving is something that is basically impossible, this abnormal striving for perfection, and we can let that go, all of a sudden, you don't have that excuse of, "I'm a perfectionist." You just go, "Yes, I'll just do it. If doesn't work out, I'm still, dot, dot, dot. I'm still lovable, I'm still worthy of love." I think that's a hard thing for people, It's hard for everybody. It's hard.
We don't like screwing up, we don't like seeing ourselves as kooks [chuckles] in anything that we do because we think people are going to not like us as much and it's just not true. I think it's that openness, the vulnerability and the trying that actually brings people to us. It seems it's counterintuitive, but if you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense.
Shelby: I think we're actually in this time where people are embracing gookdom. We like it when people are just themselves and they're not trying to be anything else.
Karen: You can't open yourself up for all of the beauty in the world if you are afraid of what you're going to find, afraid to enter a community. I think that's another thing. Even I, I think when I started surfing, didn't understand that the community of surfers was going to become so important to me. Just a community of people because I thought I could never be part of that community, I'll suck at it.
Actually, it's the opposite. People have been incredibly welcoming and helpful and kind. Kindness is something that comes from sucking. Shelby, when you and I surfed together, I wanted help from you and it was hard for me to ask you for help even in-- I remember what you said, "You want help? Oh my God, I'd love to help you." I was like, "I'm going to get some help." Then you called me into some waves and it was amazing.
Those moments where I get help while surfing are the most beautiful moments for me because it invites the generosity and kindness. When you invite generosity and kindness, it's not only that you get to experience it, the asker, the giver gets to experience. That is a gift, it's a gift that just goes back and forth. To me, it's one of the best things about sucking. By the way, I didn't even come to that until way later, until I got over my mortification of being bad at it and I started asking people for help.
Shelby: I think that's a really good point about the communities because we're all adventurers who will tune into this podcast. I think those communities of elite skiers, elite snowboarders, elite mountaineers, rock climbers, surfing, there's jerks in all those and it's intimidating. People can be elitish but you can break through that facade of jerkdom or whatever it is, when you ask them for help.
Karen: The community is the most beautiful part of it. I think a lot of what people are missing, I think people are lonely, I do. I think the loneliness is isolation and not being part of community. It's hard to become part of a new community if you're going to start something new and you're afraid to suck at it. My point is, so what? Go to that pottery studio, pick up that guitar, go to that ballet class, go to that salsa class, whatever it is. Go find there are people who will love it that you're interested.
Go play bridge. Bridge is really hard. I know people started playing bridge really late in life and it's a hard thing to do. It's like it's scary, because the people are going to roll their eyes and say, “Oh, God, you're screwing up my game.” You go, then all of a sudden, you're part of this community and you're not lonely anymore.
Shelby: One of the biggest things we have to hold on to when we think about living a good life is perspective. It's easy to lose sight of it, especially these days with people promoting the Instagram perfect lives and everyone talking about how great their side hustlers are, and how they're able to work like five jobs and have a family, and do it all plus more. It's something that David talked a lot about the elderly folks he's interviewed for his book. Anything else that really stuck out for you?
David: So many. A lot of it was perspective. That generation, often called The Greatest Generation, they went through during World War II, like the hardest of times. Whether the World War II veterans or Holocaust survivors, everybody's got a story about that time in life and how hard it was. It puts everything in perspective about the problems and struggles that we're having.
Not to say they're not real, but it's a great shift in perspective. One Holocaust survivor said her granddaughter sometimes complains about her issues and she'll say to her, “Honey, you don't want to know what issues are.” Nobody ever wants to hear that. When you talk to that generation and you hear what their issues were, you realize like, “Okay, I can I can manage it.”
Karen: You say one person who spoke to was alive during that time, she was a senior in high school and half of her class got shipped to the war.
David: Yes, that was a lighter story. She was in Salt Lake and the whole senior class got shipped off to World War II and only half of them came back. The most intense was a Holocaust survivor, who I have a whole chapter about my book, who lives a couple of miles away from me in Los Angeles. She's survived Auschwitz, but she lost all 10 of her family members in the gas chambers, both sets of grandparents, her parents, and her three siblings.
She'll sit there and she told me the story about she had her hand, her three-and-a half-year-old baby sister to her mom, and she watched them walk into the gas chambers. To this day, she's stone cold, hardened to life and happiness and has a lot of sadness. The only time that I saw her smile was when I brought my two-year-old over to visit her. That intergenerational magic really brought out the joy.
Karen: That's so interesting. I think it's really interesting what you said, though, about taking your kid to see her. I feel like there is this magic between babies and older people, or little kids and older people. In some ways, they're the same with some perspective.
David: Yes. One of the chapters in my book, there was a guy who I just did an event with him last week, and he's 101. He's filled with so much vitality. Interestingly enough, he's very involved in his synagogue and he asked me to meet him on the playground. He was surrounded by all these very little preschoolers who knew his name and he knew their name.
He was immersed in that energy of youth. I think that's part of his magic is that he draws from that energy and they draw from him. There's something to be said about the very old and the very young and that synergy is special. We need to get those generations together and have mixed the generations. I think our society is segregated by age, and that doesn't make sense.
Karen: Yes. We live in an area where ageism is pretty real. We talked about like-- I even say, "She looks old. She looks young."
David: There was one story where I had a lady who was 93, and I asked her at the end of the conversation to send me a picture. She emailed me a picture and she said, "I don't have email. Can I mail it to you?” I said, "That'll take like a week. Can't you just email it to me?” She said, "I'll have my granddaughter do it." She told me, “Let me write down your email address and I'll do it." It took like five minutes.
Then at first, I was getting really impatient because nowadays if somebody takes up an extra two minutes of your work day, it's frustrating. I realized at a certain point, I needed to take my own medicine and loosen my grip. This was actually really funny. The joke was on me, not her because I was so impatient. I didn't have two minutes to give her my email address. I think it's very relatable because we get very impatient with people now.
Karen: That's so cute.
David: Another great lesson I learned was just about parenting. This one lady gets on the phone with me and she says she has nothing to share with me that's going to be of interest. Then she tells me she waited tables when she was a mom. Her mom would come babysit and she get home at 2:00 AM exhausted. She would go in her kids room, little kids sleeping, and she'd rub their head and just sit by their bed for hours.
She could never go to their sports practices because she was always working, which she made sure they had everything they needed. She was a different kind of relationship with their children. Now, in their older age, her kids love her, and they have a really close relationship because she showed up for them when she couldn't as best she could.
That was a huge lesson to me because you think as a parent, you need to-- It's like, “What are you buying for your kids? Are you giving them the nicest thing so they can feel good about themselves?” You forget that really, all the kids want and need is the love and the presence. That was a great lesson for me as a parent. I'm not going to get this all right, but if I love them as best I can, when I can, good things will happen. That was a good one too.
Karen: That's really good. I interviewed Jesse Itzler earlier this year, and he broke down. He dissected how many hours he has left with his parents in terms of, he just knew how old they were and the average age is this age. He's like, “If I only see my parents twice here, I've 10 exact visits with them.”
David: That's so true. That's how if you think about it like that.
Karen: I booked a trip with my mom to Hawaii right away. We've never done that, we had so much fun. My mom returned 8 million things. We had so much fun. We went to an Elvis show and we went swimming together, we hiked Diamond Head. She was hilarious.
David: One more story I like to tell that when you speak to older people, you don't always get their wisdom in chronological order. Sometimes they're telling you things you don't know what they're talking about or where it's coming from. I found some of those are some of the most meaningful stories. One lady now, I think she's 85, and she just randomly started telling me the story as she worked in hospice.
Her first day in hospice, they asked her to go into this room and there's this lady in her early 30s who's dying and she's a mother, a young mother, and now she's overcome with satish, she starts crying, and the lady says, “Why are you crying?” Nell says, “I just feel so sad.” The lady says, “Can you shave my legs?” She says, “I don't want to die with hairy legs. Can shave my legs?”
Nell’s confused but she runs down the hall, she gets the soap and the razor, she shaves her legs. She said it was there this beautiful conversation. The lady dies that night. Nell says, “I learned from that, show up where people are, rather than where you think they are.”
I didn't really know what why she told me that, what it meant. A few days later, I'm in the car with my daughter who's one-year-old at the time and we're in LA gridlock, and my daughter's crying, stressful as a parent. I try to give her the snacks, she didn't want it. I try to put on the kids music, she don't want it. Finally, I said to her, “What do you want?” She said, "Hold hand, hold hand.” All she wanted was me to put my hand back and just hold on to my finger and she was perfectly fine the rest of the drive.
Then the dots connected. Show up where people are rather than where you think they are. Don't just assume that you know what somebody needs. It's a really good practice to say, “What do you need?” Ask somebody, “What can I do for you? What do you need?” Not just make the assumption. Those kinds of stories that come from nowhere, they're out of context, but they sit with you, and you marinate on them and they end up being like these really great nuggets of wisdom that are profound in my opinion.
Shelby: Being successful in life doesn't mean you have to climb mountains or drop into giant waves. It can mean just being present, paying attention and appreciating the people and experiences around you. Success is taking care of yourself and those around you so we can all lead happier, healthier lives. Sometimes, it can be hard to be okay with where we are right now. It can be hard to remember to focus on the important stuff in life. That's a big part of why I wanted to make this episode.
I think it's really interesting, You live in New York City, I live close to LA, we're both in these industries and I know it's really bad in LA, it's getting like that in San Diego. It's a bit of a rat race like, and I think a lot of us are always chasing greener grass and social media doesn't help. Maybe does, I don't know. Actually, there's some people in social media who just are posting such ridiculous, awesome stuff that's authentically themselves. It's pretty awesome, but any parting words of wisdom and the point of this podcast is I really wanted to show people like, "Hey, I know we do a lot of podcasts about self-improvement, but being okay with average or who you are, is pretty rad and the most wild thing you can do?"
Karen: By the way, that doesn't mean that again, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't pursue. It's like it's about the pursuit of passions without the expectation of being an expert. It's about being okay with mediocrity, not everything we do. I think what happens is that if we say," I love to dance," you love to dance, "I want to sing, I'll never be a good singer." Whatever it is, it's like I can do it part way and release myself from a toxic self-judgment. That release of that self-judgment it opens you up to find joy, where you wouldn't find it in other ways.
I think if you close yourself off to experience, you're closing yourself off to joy and love and community. Then when you practice something that you're not great at, and practice it with an open heart and with joy, it teaches you things like resilience, like self-compassion, like letting go of busting the myth of perfectionism, and taking off that mask of cool that we all want to wear and go, "Out of the hell with it. I'm not cool." Then if you move away from our noisy egos, it's endless what we can learn from sucking at something.
Shelby: All this is really about why achieving is important, but maybe not the most important. Maybe we can be more okay with just average or more okay with what we have.
David: I mean, listen, I'm in it too. I'm 45. I have friends all day long sending me clips to podcasts with great tips on health and I embrace a lot of them. I want to maximize my fitness level and my mental strength and acuity and my diet. I'm in that game. At a certain point, at least once each day, I think we've got to push back from our computer and take a breath, and be happy with who we are and what we've got.
Because otherwise, it's just like one thing I learned in talking to older people is, most older people are not like that 111-year-old lady. A lot older people are really worried if they're going to have enough, who's showing up for them, or they're really resentful because things didn't go their way. What happens is those conditions follow you. If you're kind of a worried when you're 42, and you'll be a lot more worried when you're 52, and really worried when you're 82. If you're resentful when you're 28, and you'll be more resentful when you're 38, and really resentful when you're 88.
These conditions follow you and that's what I try to talk about-- What I talk about in my book, Happy is the New Healthy, is there has to be a certain point right now where you decide to bust loose from the conditions that you tie to your life and your happiness. I'll be happy when my kids get into college and I'll be happy when I pay off my credit card bill and I'll be happy when it's summertime.
I think there has to be a certain point where you realize those conditions they're never going to go away. There's always going to be a new condition and you come to a point where you bust loose from all these conditions that you tie to your existence and your happiness. The mantra is, I'm happy now. I think it's really, really important. One of the things I talk about when I give talks in corporate environments, it's a really good practice to talk about what makes you happy because everyone's talking about the things that they're struggling with, their back hurts, the traffic's really bad, their team loss last night.
You just perpetuate that complaining and that whining. Well, when you talk about, "Okay, here's what's making me happy today. Saw the sunrise, my daughter gave me a kiss good night and told me she wants to have a beautiful day with me." Whatever it is that brought you a moment of joy talk about that and you perpetuate and spread the contagion of joy as easily as you would spread the contagion of malcontent. Those are some of the advice I like to give.
Shelby: There's a lot of content out there in the world right now about how to be better, how to run faster, how to be healthier, that kind of thing. I'm going to keep doing shows that promote healthier living, but all that constant improving, it can sometimes be exhausting. It's not always about being better, bigger, faster, or stronger. It's not always about chasing the greener grass. It's about being okay with where you are right now, and that's the whole point of this podcast; to live with intention and pave your own path. Whether it's a path in your neighborhood where you walk your dog, or a trail of mountain that you climb on a multi-day trek, or a path that you have to afford yourself to the jungle with your own rusty machete.
My hope is that in hearing stories of others who chase their wild ideas, you'll have the courage to change yours too. This podcast is produced by REI with a help from Annie Fassler and Chelsea Davis. Tune in week after next for an episode that was very much inspired by this one. I'll be talking to a woman who survived Auschwitz. She has an incredible story about human resilience and the power of choice. This week, I hope you remember that it's okay to be average. Living a life of intention, positivity, gratitude, that's the important stuff.
If you like this podcast, I'd love it if you gave us a review on Apple podcast, Spotify, wherever you're listening to this show, ideally, and above average review though. Wherever you are, please remember, some of the best adventures happen when you follow your wildest ideas.
[00:56:44] [END OF AUDIO]

Here’s the Wild Idea

I’m speaking with two authors who’ve released books that are less about the extreme, and more about the in between – the important stuff in life. Karen Rinaldi is the author of It’s Great to Suck at Something, a book about the joy she found in pursuit of surfing, a sport she says she’ll never be good at. David Romanelli wrote Life Lessons from the Oldest and Wisest. After losing his last living grandparent, David realized that elderly people often have some of the best underrated and underutilized advice about what really matters.

I am excited to do this episode because we’re focusing on the things that happen on our way to reaching our goals, and along the journey of our lives. We talk about why totally sucking at something can be awesome, how to let go of our egos, and why perfectionism and being overly busy can be a trap. We also dive into how we can focus less on our social media feeds, and focus more on the relationships we have, the way we make people feel, and the energy we put into the world.

Presented by REI

Listen to this Episode if

  • You want to try something, but you’re afraid you’ll suck.
  • You are over being busy.
  • You want to find your community.
  • You are ready to focus on what’s important in life.

Key Takeaways

  • 2:50 – Why Karen decided to write It’s Great to Suck at Something.
  • 8:40 – Karen reads the introduction to her book.
  • 18:10 – How David became interested in the wisdom of elders.
  • 23:25 – What cancer taught Karen about vulnerability and gratitude.
  • 28:40 – Why it’s important to have a sense of humor when you’re going through tough stuff.
  • 34:50 – Karen on the danger of perfectionism.
  • 38:00 – Why opening yourself up allows you to find a community.
  • 41:25 – David learned that it’s important to maintain perspective about your problems.
  • 45:30 – The lessons David learned about parenting.
  • 50:50 – Being ok with where you are is pretty radical.
  • 52:40 – Why we should work to be happy with what we’ve got.

Episodes to listen to

Karen Rinaldi


(It’s Great to) Suck at Something by Karen Rinaldi
Life Lessons from the Oldest & Wisest by David Romanelli
Maggie’s Plan
Harper Wave
(It’s Great To) Suck at Something essay

Connect with Karen


Connect with David




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