I’m just a guy, and, as I’ve written before, we men have fragile egos.
Without going too deep into my biography, here are some salient facts about me:
I was in my late twenties before the first time I (noticed that I) wasn’t the smartest person in any given room. Obviously, there were at least two things going on for those twenty-something years – there was a bit of my actually being the smartest person in the room, and there was a bit of my not noticing that I wasn’t. But in my late twenties, I found myself, for a variety of reasons, in a lot of rooms in which it simply was no longer possible for me even to imagine that I was the smartest person. This was painful for me, in addition to being surprising, and it required a considerable reorganization of my understanding of the universe. Literally. (And I mean “literally” literally.) It may also have been the beginning of the end of what I later came to understand as my period of compulsive sex, or sex addiction. It was in the wake of this discovery that my sexual shame and secrecy blossomed into full blown compulsive commercial sex.
Anyway, for the next fifteen years, I operated professionally in a world the members of which consider themselves to be, unquestionably, the smartest of the smartest. I succeeded fine in that world, despite being, I think fairly objectively speaking, in the bottom quartile of those folks by just about any measure. I had a few signal skills and aptitudes that served me very well – not least, writing better than your average bear, but also being genuinely likable (at least, in person), a true rarity in that world, and yet/thus, a valuable commodity. And yes, Virginia, in person I am likable, whatever you may think of me via my writing. At least I am most of the time.
So there I was, for years, in the bottom quartile of a group that considers itself the top decile (if not the top percentile). Not a shabby place to be. And there, I happily (and accurately) could proclaim that I “had no ego.” At least, not relative to the rest of the folks in that world. And this, in itself, was a distinguishing characteristic – particularly given the relative level of success that I attained. You see, ego is kind of necessary to succeed in that world.…
Anyway, on to the current moment. As I wrote recently, circumstances in my life have conspired to put me in a pretty debased place, ego-wise, for the better part of two years. This is, honestly, mostly at my choosing, and incredibly interesting. I have a whole ‘nother blog on the subject. And no, you can’t have the URL. (There’s a not insignificant element of the involuntary in all this, but I’m at pains to deny it, for the most part.)
Anyway, this debasement is wildly unfamiliar to me – it’s been since the mid 90s that I was low man on any totem pole. Suffice it to say, I’ve gone from being something of a king of a (pretty high) hill to being a peon at the base of a much smaller hill (but one that thinks itself quite high, thank you very much). This is true not just in the professional sphere – it’s true in many areas of my life.
We (my family) just got back from a trip for the holidays. Just three years ago, I was quite the frequent flier – it was an unusual week in which I didn’t take a flight or four. I can’t remember the last flight I took prior to the ones I took this week, but it was certainly months ago. On this most recent trip, I was struck by all the ways in which the airline industry insults those it’s not busy plying with nuts and liquor. And I confess, I wasn’t simply struck in an anthropological, sociological, economic way: I was insulted. At least for a moment.
And then I noticed.
I noticed that I felt entitled to the good treatment afforded those who fly often, who fly expensive, who sit in the front of the plane. And then I noticed the full dimensions of that sense of entitlement.
It has been quite an adjustment for me, these last few years, to go from being a Master of the Universe to being an average schlub. I always affected a certain conviction that even as a Master of the Universe, I didn’t think myself any different from average schlubs, But in retrospect, I realize that this was something of an affectation, or at least, that it’s one thing to see oneself as no different from average schlubs, and another thing entirely to be an average schlub.
That’s what I am, of course, an average schlub. And I’m one who has the perspective to know that the Masters of the Universe themselves are really just average schlubs themselves, with nicer suits, and slightly (or substantially) greater appetites. And that when I was a Master of the Universe, I was much less happy than I am today.
But sometimes it’s nice to have a flight attendant walk up to you at the end of a long day, in a darkened cabin, and say in a flirty voice, “Would you like warm nuts, sir?”