Narcissism, Impostor Syndrome, and Making the Harder Choice

You know, it’s weird when, in a sudden flash of clarity, you really want to thank a random article from TIME in 2013 for basically bashing your entire generation, yet I find myself exactly in that position.  See, I got into a conversation last night, a reminder of just how messy our lives get.  See, I’m a part of this thing a lot of folks refer to as Generation Me, that group of crazy, self-centered, narcissistic newbs born between 1980 and 2000 or so, which means some of us are finally in our thirties (I’m not, quite, though I’m close.)  I logged onto Facebook the year it came out (I believe, though I’m not downloading an entire backup file just to confirm that.)  I spent my last year of University watching people rant on the internet about how selfish and scandalous my generation is, and frankly, I couldn’t understand any of it.  Here’s why.

I grew up around narcissistic people.  I wasn’t the best or most important.  Hell, I wasn’t important at all, as evidenced by both of my younger siblings getting the needed testing and diagnosed help to function when needed and my plummeting grades being met with a pat on the head and a sympathetic bi-weekly trip to a guidance counselor’s office.  Hooray for being smart enough to carry Cs in spite of a myriad of other troubles stifling me from doing my best.  If this sounds narcissistic, possibly, though the numbers did, in fact confirm that, instead of nearly flunking out of high school English for all of the classic symptoms of inattentive variety ADHD, I could’ve aced it thanks to a significantly high linguistic IQ.  I still have the paper somewhere.  Said paper also states that I am basically dead average at math, though I’m good enough to keep my own check book balanced, thankfully.

Okay, okay, I’m drifting.  I see you wondering what my point is.  It’s this.  At the end of the sixth paragraph, the author dropped in a quote, and it hit me hard.  (If you haven’t read the article yet, go read it.)

All that self-esteem leads them to be disappointed when the world refuses to affirm how great they know they are. “This generation has the highest likelihood of having unmet expectations with respect to their careers and the lowest levels of satisfaction with their careers at the stage that they’re at,” says Sean Lyons, co-editor of Managing the New Workforce: International Perspectives on the Millennial Generation. “It is sort of a crisis of unmet expectations.”

Well, what if the expectation is you’ll never be anything but miserable, and your life is always going to suck?  Really?  What if that’s the expectation?  It’s one I’ve fought for years…decades, if I’m honest.  When we’re kids, we all have these ideas of doing great things – and yes, that’s vague for a reason.  When I was somewhere between seven and eight, my great thing was to not fight with whoever I married as much as my parents fought, so my kids wouldn’t have to hide from us like I had to hide my siblings.  In fact, my parents had pulled all three of us out of school that Wednesday for a day trip.  That morning, someone pushed the cereal across the table.  Mom thought it was going to fall.  Dad claimed he would’ve caught it.  I don’t remember much of what was said, but they started shouting.  As the oldest, I pulled my siblings outside to play.

My third grade teacher drove by the house on her lunch break, saw us, and asked why we weren’t in school.  I had no idea what to say.

So in 2013, when I first encountered that time article, I couldn’t understand what world or generation this author was describing.  Unmet expectations?  If anything, my expectations have been met, frequently, and I fight every day to build a life of better ones, or there’s no way there would be a ring on my hand and a marriage certificate in my file box.  That’s where Impostor Syndrome comes in.

While it’s true, we all wear different faces at different times, it’s one thing to show an appropriate facet at work and one to your therapist, and another entirely to be two-faced.  Impostor Syndrome, while not an official diagnosis, basically tries to tell you that the first is actually the second.  Or worse, that anything you’ve accomplishes was basically just luck, and you’ve got no virtue of your own.  Now, add to this a very real drive to succeed, what some may call a type A personality, and a childhood riddled with the narrative of incapability and never trying hard enough and it’s a recipe for absolute disaster.

After all, what are we really hiding?

After all, what are we really hiding?

At the end of the day, though, I’ve learned to fight through the so called Impostor Syndrome.  Honestly, if my “luck” dictated my life, well, I doubt I’d be happy with any of it.  So I figure it’s time to color outside the lines.  I’ve spent the last several hours trying to finish this post in the face of a massive dose of depression, and now, after a conversation with an old friend, I’m about to embark on a five year streak of madness, and participate in my first Half Ironman in 2021.  The conclusion to today’s ramble?  Growing up around a great deal of narcissism may lead to impostor syndrome, but the only question that really matters is this.  What pain do you want to sustain?

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