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The Art of Being a Flaker

(Photo: Giada Canu/Stocksy)

(Photo: Giada Canu/Stocksy)

‘Tis the season for accepting invitations to holiday parties and saying yes to merrymaking with friends, family and coworkers. ‘Tis the season for exclamatory declarations: “I’ll be there!” and “Can’t wait!” and “Count me in!”

Also, ‘tis the time for emoji-laden last-minute cancellations.

Ugh! I’m sorry, but I can’t make it after all. (😞😞😞😞) Unfortunately, I have…

Please don’t hate me! 😞😞😞  I won’t be there tonight.😞😞😞  I’m soooooo sorry.😞😞😞

So many sad faces, so little time. But lack of time isn’t my excuse for not showing up when and where I say I will. The fact is, I am a flaker.

Flaker \ˈflā-kər\ noun: someone who cancels plans at the last minute, someone who reneges on invitations, someone who doesn’t show up and doesn’t call first, etc. (i.e. I was supposed to go to this party downtown tonight, but my friend Penny is a flaker.)

Mind you, my penchant for backing out or pulling up late isn’t relegated to social obligations. Flaking is a true way of life for me. Everyone thinks they’re a flaker, but I’m a flaker’s flaker.

I call myself a flaker’s flaker the way you might call a man a guy’s guy when his testosterone-dripping confidence borders on insolence. I call myself a flaker’s flaker the way certain magazines call an author a writer’s writer and it makes you roll your eyes when you know said writer is a yet another old white man, young white man or well-bred white woman (old or young)…or, you know, sometimes maybe it’s Jhumpa Lahiri, so that’s cool.

What I’m getting at here is that my flaking rubs many people the wrong way. These people are probably the ones who think:

Flaking is a form of procrastination. Yes, inasmuch as procrastination means both waiting until the last minute to do something and thereby missing the deadline because the last minute is often the day after the deadline and/or waiting until the morning of an event to back out even though you knew you didn’t feel like going two days ago.

Flakers are selfish. If you insist, maybe I am. I would rather flake on you than flake on myself.

Flaking is childish. I disagree. If you were ever flaked on as a child, you know that grown-ups flake, not children. Flaking is something grown-ups do because they’re tired. Because life is long and commitments are easy to make but harder to fulfill but our hearts are well-meaning.

Flakers are lazy. Don’t you dare go there. Lazy is a cringe-worthy label we affix to children for not cleaning their rooms and not doing their homework. To say someone is lazy is an easy out.

If you ask me, flaking is:

  • An unwitting side effect, symptom and result of FOMO. Flaking happens when you say yes because you don’t want to be wracked with shoulda, coulda, woulda guilt about the adventures you’re not taking, but then you still back out from doing them (for various reasons that we’ll get to later).
  • An exhibit of time mismanagement and a lack of discipline. This might be what people are getting at when they accuse flakers of being lazy. If anything, my flaking is a byproduct of my failure to be disciplined about scheduling the items on my to-do list in a way that’s manageable for my schedule
  • Outright passive aggression. In many instances, flaking is a last-minute out for not doing what you didn’t want to do in the first place, but that you didn’t have the heart to say no to.

In all things, though, flaking is trying.

Like many people, I have a love/hare relationship with the word “try.” My inner self-help guru (or maybe Yoda) rallies me to “do not try; do.” That’s all well and good. But some days, trying is all that works and trying is underrated; and I’m not even talking about trying my best (though I wholly embrace the idea that trying my best means that my best might change from one day to the next and my best might at no time be good enough for someone else).

Almost every morning this year, I’ve thought to myself, “It’s not the getting up; it’s the getting ready.” As someone who — in previous years — has been severely depressed, who struggled to leave the bed for anything other than answering the door for the pizza delivery man, I know what it means to not even be able to put your feet to the floor some days. So the fact that just getting up is no longer the hard part? Well, that’s progress. I am trying and sometimes trying my best, but always trying nonetheless.

In my early 20s I read The Four Agreements and I took to heart the first agreement: “Be Impeccable With Your Word.” And by saying I took it to heart, I mean that I thought, “Yeah, I should do that.”

Take December 15, for example, when I received an email from one of my lovely TueNight editors Darian Symone, who asked when I was going to turn in this story you’re currently reading which was due on December.

My story was nine days late, which is more than a week late, which is pretty damn late. I actively put off writing this story for at least 10 days. I woke up at 6 a.m. saying, “I need to write that flaking story…” and then I hit the snooze button until 8:45 a.m., 15 minutes before it was time for me to go to my 9-to-5 job. Then I went to bed every night saying, “I should stay up late to write that flaking story…” but I fell asleep watching old reruns of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix instead.

This behavior is not the definition of being impeccable with my word.

[pullquote]I call myself a flaker’s flaker the way you might call a man a guy’s guy when his testosterone-dripping confidence borders on insolence.[/pullquote]

Why do I always do this? Flaking on things — on people, on plans — is one thing. Flaking on my purpose is another. To not write when I say I will write is not the “last-minute out from doing what you didn’t want to do in the first place” flaking; it’s…well, it’s what?

Is it fear? Fear of failure? Fear of something being too hard, whether that means it’s more difficult than I think it should be or as difficult as I knew that it would be?

Flaking is not a problem for naysers. Flaking is the burden of “yes” people. Flaking is the cross you risk bearing when you know your own potential and possibility.

I love saying yes. Saying yes to things reminds me that I’m talented and capable. But undertaking the small and big stuff that fulfill the commitment of the yes, all the tasks that come after you offer an affirmative answer and that are required to complete the yes? Well, that’s where my flaking comes in.

So why do we flakers keep saying yes, you might ask?

Why do I say yes to calls for pitches from editors when I know saying yes means sitting my ass down to write thousands of words that don’t come easy? Why do I keep saying yes to drinks with friends when I know I don’t feel like sitting my ass down in a barstool to laugh and joke for hours when neither laugher nor time comes easy?

Why do I say yes to any of it — writing, socializing, whatnot — when I know there’s a good chance that I’ll flake?

I could crunch the numbers, attempt to crack the code of time management. Believe me, I’ve tried doing time inventories and time budgets and filling out my Google calendar down to the half hour and creating spreadsheets to determine my productivity and analyzing all the data I’ve collected. All I’ve figured out is:

1) I’m not good at math; 2) I’m not interested in spending more time to figure out what’s legitimately doable in my life and  3) What’s legitimately doable is of no interest to me anyway because I strive to reach beyond my own doability.

I don’t see myself changing.

So now what? This: It is what it is. I’ve got this flaking story to finish, another story that I need to start that’s not about flaking but that I don’t want to flake on. Plus, I have to report to my 9-to-5 job in 16 minutes. See, trying to come up with a reasonable, thoughtful solution for how not to flake takes more time than a flaker like me has to waste.

I look at it this way: By my account, in 2016, for every few happy-hour dates that I broke with friends, I’ve been to at least six other catch-ups-over-cocktails, housewarmings, movies and dinner parties. For those three stories that I turned in late (and one story that I didn’t turn in at all) this year, there were at least seven stories that I turned in on time.

If you ask me, I broke even. Better yet, I’m in the black.

Filed under: Self

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Penny Wrenn

Penny Wrenn is a Harlem-based writer who was raised in Lancaster, PA. (Right? Can't you just see the From Amish Country to the Apollo memoir now?) Penny's work has appeared in Esquire; Essence; Glamour; Marie Claire; O, The Oprah Magazine and Redbook, among other publications. She writes a weekly (or twice weekly or, sometimes, thrice weekly column, "Penny For Your Thoughts" for MadameNoire). And, by the way, she doesn't usually use the word "thrice" in conversation.

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