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How to Joyfully Struggle with Something

A new book teaches how to enjoy life, even when you make mistakes.


“This book won’t make you a master of anything,” Karen Rinaldi writes in her funny, inspiring and memorably-titled new 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.

Rinaldi is a writer, editor and publisher. She’s also a surfer—or would be, if she weren’t so bad at it. She’d never be so bold as to claim the title “surfer” for herself, but she does struggle joyfully to improve and enjoy surfing more each time she gets in the water.

Yes, she struggles joyfully. And, she argues, so should we—with something that inspires, interests or intrigues us.

Her book is a well-researched, well-organized philosophy of embracing ineptitude, or at least acknowledging that cultivating multiple interests with no expectation of mastery is a worthy endeavor that’s good for our brains, bodies and emotional health.

Like the surfer she is (not), Rinaldi structures the book in “waves,” with each chapter offering a rule, a lesson and a benefit. One chapter’s rule is, “Do what you love without expectation of gain or reward, or, You are not your work.” Its lesson is, “If you fight the wave, the wave always wins.” And its benefit is, “Playing is good for you.”

The ride isn’t smooth, for Rinaldi or for any of us. Just after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Jersey Shore area in 2012 where she lived and surfed, Rinaldi was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her writing sings as she tells of her road through that tumultuous time and how she managed to stay grounded and even cultivate gratitude in the midst of fear and suffering.

“All along,” she writes, “this sucking business turns out to be about something much bigger than riding a wave. It’s about ritual and meaning, beauty and pain, connection and loss and how all of it ties together. Not neatly, into a pretty little bow, but into a Gordian knot no sword can cut through.”

“Life is not for figuring out,” she concludes, “it’s for living.”  

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