The Case for Fucking Up in Public

It’s more than okay! It’s good!



When I made the transition from confident young person to self-conscious twenty-something, I remember feeling an urgent temptation to delete all evidence of my past transgressions — a millennial rite of passage if there ever was one. I was so embarrassed by the misguided lists on my old Tumblr about “how to be happy” (ugh), outdated essays I’d posted about what I believed, conversations I’d had, ways I’d acted. I felt totally paralyzed and ashamed of those formative post-college years when my convictions changed or revealed themselves to be problematic.

Something clicked for me, though, when I discovered a writer I respected who refused to delete her archive of inferior (and even embarrassing) online work. At the time, it struck me as brave and novel. I still feel that way. The older I get, the more charmed I become by those willing to own up to or even broadcast their past rather than rewrite it. Maybe because doing so takes some guts in a society so hell-bent on flattening characters into a single dimension.

Calling out injustice and contradiction is imperative, maybe tantamount, to progress. But the current obsession with sanding off all of the nuance and complexity of emotional evolution troubles me. We live for the drama of old offensive tweets and misguided comments, attack at the faintest whiff of hypocrisy. We hold others to standards we ourselves cannot live up to and, in doing so, we set up a paradigm wherein even minor public transgressions can be tantamount to social suicide.

I’m compelled by the challenge of mixing vigilance with compassion. It’s so tricky and delicate considering our love affair with uncomplicated characters. Lovable or evil, fun or boring, smart or stupid. Everything’s so much more palatable inside the comfortable confines of a label. We even shape our own identities to appear solid and without holes, as though we’ve had them forever. But we are all so much more that. We’re confused and passionate. Determined and conflicted. Confident and self-conscious! Maybe if we let each other be more inconsistent, we’d feel less shame about our own inconsistencies.

The arc of growing the F up is long, cringe-worthy and great material for public fodder and reflection, if you ask me. When we leave it all out there and let others do the same — the old, embarrassing blog posts, the opinions we no longer agree with, the 1.0 versions of our personalities that send a shiver down our spine — we normalize the messy and necessary journey that precedes a better version of ourselves. It’s a different kind of acceptance, but one worth considering.

Collage by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.

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  • Yes! Stick to it all, it’s a kind of richness.

  • Alex S

    “We hold others to standards we ourselves cannot live up to and, in doing so, we set up a paradigm wherein even minor public transgressions can be tantamount to social suicide.”

    Yes yes yes!! This is a problem that is rampant among liberals and conservatives alike. We search for the incriminating like it’s a witch hunt. We denounce our heros at any sign of failure, forgetting all the skeletons we keep in our own closets.

    • dietcokehead

      Jon Ronson’s “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” really put all this in perspective for me. It’ll make you want to delete everything you ever posted online, sure, but also gives a perspective on how fucking dumb it all is these days.

  • tmm16

    “We’re confused and passionate. Determined and conflicted. Confident and self-conscious!” – I graduated 10 months ago and relate so hard to just all of this.

  • Lauren

    Dang, very well said. Though you’re coming from a more well-rounded human perspective (which I love), I will say that this resonated me particularly due to what I’ve witnessed since becoming a ~young professional~. I work in the public policy/journalism world, and have seen so many people who, once they begin to get some recognition for their work/find their “voice,” get torn to shreds over a tweet they posted while they were in college or just getting started. Just last week, I started going through my old tweets and deleting ones that I thought were too embarrassing or juvenile in case it ever happens to me. This post is making me rethink that.

  • Madison Grace

    Yesss agree with this!! What’s rough to see is when professionals get bashed over a tweet from many years ago, or an old blog post. People change and it’s brave of them to leave that journey online – we’ve all said cringe things and done cringe-y things also rip.

    mads xx

    MY BLOG:
    just a writer trynna make it – would be F.A.B for you to check it out

  • Jackie Homan

    100% agree…when I was 15 I made a fashion blog that I maintained for a few years, and I guarantee it is some of the most embarrassing content to ever be put on the internet (think a lot of bad Forever 21 outfits and poorly lit photos, and still I guarantee it is worse than whatever you’re imagining). BUT I refuse to delete it, partly because it’s so funny to look back on and partly because I was so proud of it at the time that I don’t want to crush the spirit of my 15-year-old self

  • Jennifer

    This is great Haley! Thanks for the good read!

  • Vanessa

    Wonderful! You are so right. I haven’t kept a diary in years because the last time I flipped through an old one I was so embarrassed by my past behavior. The idea of not hiding that I was a total asshole is comforting, exciting, and scary. Thank you.

  • This means so much!!

  • sophia amoruso

    Verified experience with this. Agree wholeheartedly.

  • Rheanonn Perez

    awww this post is 2 weeks old but i didn’t see it til now! i feel so late to the comment party lol 🙁

    anyway i was in high school when twitter & instagram became a thing so my accounts are like 7/8 years old. over the past few months i have deleted sooo many instagram posts (after screenshotting for my own archive) because idk, it just felt like i had so many posts & i wanted to get rid of anything that was more than a year old/didn’t reflect ~me~! now i kind of regret it & wish i hadn’t done such an expansive purge lol. maybe i should have just made a new account. oh well, what’s done is done. i guess i’ll have a huge #tbt folder for years to come lol.

    social media + smartphones have only been around for 10-15 years so they’re relatively new & i think each person is still trying to figure out their own “do’s & don’ts” with it all.

    • Rheanonn Perez

      oh also lol

  • oliviafortune

    I literally just downloaded an app to delete my twitter history because my CT was acting up after trying it myself. Coulda saved $5.