“Backburner Theory” comes from an essay by David Sedaris. He probably wouldn’t endorse the name “Backburner Theory” or its application as a life framework (or anything I have to say, really), but I think about it all the time.
Pat was driving, and as we passed the turnoff for a shopping center, she invited us to picture a four burner stove.
“Gas or electric?” Hugh asked, and she said that it didn’t matter.
This was not a real stove, but a symbolic one, used to prove a point at a management seminar she’d once attended. “One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful, you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful, you have to cut off two.
–David Sedaris, Laugh Kookaburra
Quoth the burners, you can’t be good at everything.
Your favorite novelist might have skipped a few meals and unskipped a few cigarettes during the creation of her last bestseller. Your favorite picket-fence family may have risen from the ashes of ambitions long forgotten. The most popular man is town is late for work and probably hungover. That juggler is most definitely single.
And all of them can be happy, because you can’t be good at everything.
This also means it’s OK to suck at life sometimes.
When you’re learning to walk, it’s OK to have beginner-level toilet skills. If you’re healing after a trauma, it’s OK to fall behind on the group chat. If you’re crushing it as a heart surgeon, mother, and community leader, it will surprise no one if your own well is running dry.
You’re going to suck at something, once in a while. Embrace this. Revel in the suck. When you’re getting better at something, you owe it to yourself to suck at something else.