Non-Stereotypical Life-Paths, Or: How to Avoid Pissing Contests You Probably Really Don’t Care About

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
The Velveteen Rabbit

I read an interesting blog posting on my way back from the EAWOP. The author talked about a telephone call she had with someone she thought she knew and liked, but during the telephone conversation it became clear that they were in completely different worlds.

Imagine one the one hand the typical “seagull consultant(*)” — what he is doing in his job (stereotypically) is to swoop in, shit on everything, then leave to unspoiled shores (with a lot of money). And on the other hand, imagine as the author of that posting a person who chooses her own idiosyncratic path through life. Who did not find the “right” job immediately, who encountered some stressful situations, who had some negative experiences — in short, some real life experience. Now imagine a conversation where the consultant brags about his “achievements” on his straight path through life. (Why I put achievements in quotation marks will become clear in a second.)

It can really make the other person feel bad. So bad that she wrote a posting about it.

But why?

Eleanor Roosevelt once said:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

She also said:

“A snub is the effort of a person who feels superior to make someone else feel inferior. To do so, he has to find someone who can be made to feel inferior.”

People who regard life as a competition like that consultant, where all living beings share (or should share) the same goals and there are clear and objective “better” or “worse” ways of living, need you to consent to this world-view … and their values. Otherwise this whole “my house, my car, my wife (sorry, my boat)” thing is pointless and they cannot succeed [there was a famous German advertisement spot that played out this kind of pissing contest, you can see it on YouTube]. Unfortunately (for others but also for themselves), they are very good at instilling these values (temporarily) in their conversation partners. Part of these values is that it is better to simply buy a house designed by a good architect than build it yourself. Because building a house yourself is pointless — “gifted people” (both have an IQ of at least 130) get (or should get) bored after putting in the third stone.

But the question that I see is: Are these really your values?

For many creative people, the answer is likely a medium to strong “No.”

Then, why should you be bothered by this bragging?

For example, would you like to just buy a house even if money was no issue? During frustrating building times, when a board is too short, surely, but isn’t there value in building a house oneself? For example, when it comes to appreciating it, having a deeper connection with it?

Or regarding the “mundane task” of putting stones on each other — don’t you see the challenges only when you get into details, when you persist and actually (try to) finish something? Ideas are easy, the implementation is hard. Only when you put in the thirtieth stone can you see whether you can actually build a wall, and only after the last stone is in and you put stress on it can you see whether you can actually build a house. Only then is intelligence and learning really tested.

Anyone can buy something with money (if money is not important, you can even afford to be cheated), but if you want to go beyond appearance and build a home, you need more than that. Thinking you can do it because you are so intelligent or so creative won’t cut it. You have to actually do it. Talk wont get you or your house through a storm.

However, regarding the mentioned posting, the consultant might think that he has won — in what was never a competition: There is a posting about him on that other blog and he might believe he has made the author envious (à la “It’s lonely at the top.”, when in fact he just ignored the context). Personally, I would suspect the consultant is in a very homogeneous environment with shared goals (all realizable via money) and a high competition (at least in the in-group, which are the only people who “count”). The kind of social/work environment that leads people to drop out at 40, when suddenly it’s not “my house, my car, my horse”, but “my younger lover, my approach at self-actualization, my divorce”. Because let’s face it, this identity now is likely a Foreclosure (Marcia; copied without exploring alternatives).

And in a way, it’s their loss. People like this consultant instill a competitiveness that makes opponents out of what could have been a fellow traveler on an idiosyncratic road through life. A person you meet only every now and then, because the preference for the road is different, but who could have been an happy occasional encounter at a crossroad.

I think the still greater tragedy of these people is that they instill doubt in people who were willing to go their own way — creative people. People who do not necessarily think that a house and children has to be a given. It is a valid option but one of many options. But it’s hard to find out what you really want in life when you are tied down by societal pressures and being made inferior by the stormtroopers of societal enforcement(**).

So, yup, I totally agree with Eleanor Roosevelt. Other people might want to compete with you on their terms, but you don’t have to compete with them, neither on their terms, nor on yours. It’s probably better to just ignore this pissing contest — refuse to give your consent and live your life as you want it.

After all, we are humans and everyone’s journey is his or her own.

We are humans.
We light fires in the eternal darkness,
to celebrate our transient lives,
in our own ways, and
in all its breadth and depth it can afford.
We love the darkness and the light.
And we celebrate.
Henry J. Wilcoxen-Ash

 

Footnotes

(*) I am sorry that this posting is a little hard on the consultants crowd. There are some good consultants out there, but there are also those who see it as a way to make money fast and who do — well, seagull consulting. Who think they have all the answers and do not listen first. Who think that faking an answer is better than admitting that they have to check it first, or think about it, or admit that they do no not know it (okay, some PhDs and professors are similar). Worst example so far was a consultant who came in, proclaimed that the people in the company should demand price cuts of their supplies: “10% off at least, no matter what. They can deal with it. You gotta be hard here.” to which one senior employee replied (very calmly and unemotionally) that this is stupid bullshit, that it poisons the excellent relationships they have with their suppliers, who, frequently, go the extra mile for them when it comes to sudden changes in production, and so on. Let’s just say the consultant had the opportunity for a real learning experience here. But still, it is not about consultancy bashing and in many cases, I think that consultants just react to a market that frequently wants quick fixes and no real improvement at the same time (otherwise, some managers might look bad). I guess that many people have similar “foreclosed” identities that they never questioned. And sure, it feels safe and comfortable to have a “gold standard”, but I take issue with making a personal “gold standard” the only righteous way of living.

(**) In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m not exactly impartial here.

Categories: Feedback, Self-Improvement, Something to Think About



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