Let me tell you about two times I got too drunk. The first time, I confessed my narcissism to a friend. She laughed in my face and brought me a blanket. Clearly, I was spending the night on her couch.
Why did she laugh? Because the idea of me as a narcissist sounded that ridiculous. Which meant my plan had worked.
I’d fooled everyone into considering me a humble person.
By doing what? Acting humble, even if I thought very highly of myself. Which begs the question. If you care deeply about how humble people think you are, does that actually make you so?
Turns out, yes. If you do it the right way.
What is humility, except an internal form of pride? A secret pride, one that matters. One you don’t have to show off, because it’s real.
With me, something inside my head makes me care enough about other people to correct my deepest failings. It’s not a one-time fix, though. I have to monitor myself all the time. Exhausting, but it works. I fake a persona, because part of me knows how I should act.
What comes naturally to other people only came to me through a great deal of extra work, reflection, and growth.
I’m not alone. Millions of people go through the same shit. Maybe not narcissism, but something else. Whatever you lack, you have to make for yourself. You have to perform it.
We see so much in-authenticity in the world. Facebook. Instagram. And so on. People craft their personas more than ever. Recently, a backlash has cracked. A hundred writers — myself included — have espoused the importance of being your genuine self.
And yet I also say the opposite. Sometimes, I write about being yourself. Other times, I write about the need to fake and perform.
The truth? You have to do both. Some of us have no choice but to put on a facade of some kind, because we have monstrous flaws.
Whatever you lack, you have to make for yourself. You have to perform it.
This advice goes deeper than the old cliche, fake it ’til you make it. Because that never helped much. Fake what exactly, until we make it…where? What are we trying to accomplish with all our faking?
And when do we make it? So far, I think it’s never. We never actually make it. We just keep on faking.
The question is why you’re faking. Are you lying for someone else’s benefit, or your own? You can’t always know.
But at least you can ask the question. Second-guessing all your different personas, wondering which one’s real, and which one actually contributes something to the world, that keeps you halfway honest.
Halfway honest counts for a lot these days.
Half the time, a narrative plays in my head: that I’m the smartest, most talented bitch in the world.
A very different narrative plays in the other half: that I’m a complete fraud, a failure who somehow conned everyone into thinking I’m a great teacher and an even better writer.
A third narrative plays. Because I’m a little crazy. And crazy people always come with a little extra. The third narrative butts in and says my con game isn’t very strong. It says, “If you were a real con artist, you wouldn’t have settled for tricking people into thinking you’re a great teacher.” My third voice criticizes me for not being a very ambitious con artist.
After all, people have conned their way to the presidency more than once. Why am I settling for conning myself into a job as a professor at a mid-tier university? At least aim for NYU or Columbia. Jeez.
We see so much in-authenticity in the world. Facebook. Instagram. And so on. People craft their personas more than ever. Some of us have never had a choice, because we have monstrous flaws.
Now let me tell you about the second time I got too drunk. As if there were only two. Well, only two that matter here.
The second time, me and five or six other people wound up at some diner at 2 am. Walking distance from someone’s house. The site of major party. We were trying to sober up with grease bombs.
At the time, I was new in town. Trying to make friends. Maybe acquire a boyfriend. Or at least sleep with someone in order to boost my self-esteem. My plan backfired. After we ordered, two of the girls pulled me aside. Like everyone else there, they were MFA critters.
Aspiring creative writers.
They lectured me. “We’re all going to be talking about Jason’s novel manuscript in a minute. So, could you go? It’s just that…you don’t have any real writing experience.”
The other girl added, “It’s going to be a very in-depth discussion.”
From across the diner, Jason waved at me. We’d flirted all night. As I would learn later, not a great writer. Somehow, I already suspected.
Ahhhh, I thought. A light bulb moment.
These two girls were also trying to sleep with Jason. Plus, they didn’t know that I’d recently published a novel. Or that I’d recently gotten a rave review from Kirkus. Maybe I should tell them.
Maybe I should also show them my CV. Because nowadays, you can do that. Smartphones and everything.
Lucky me, my humility kicked in. Or at least my version of it. Humility told me that I didn’t matter in this moment. They didn’t need to know anything about me. Nothing in my CV would convince them to let me have Jason to myself. Plus, humility did me a huge favor. It convinced me to shut up and think a second, to think about what I actually wanted.
And it wasn’t to sleep with Jason. Or to prove to two drunk girls that I deserved to sleep with him more than they did.
I’m always amazed at how much thinking can happen in the span of a second or two. Even inside a drunk brain.
So instead I just apologized. I told the girls I’d eat my soggy slice of pizza when it came out, and then I’d leave.
Okay, two slices of pizza. Just trying to keep it real.
When our food came, the girls moved everyone to a “bigger table.” But I stayed where I was and watched them. Friends have described this act to me as creeping, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to observe humans in their natural habit for a little while.
Because I might look human. But I’m not human. Not really. By the way, they never started discussing Jason’s novel. Not unless they decided the best way to understand his characters was interpretive dance.
A stranger flapped down beside me. Started talking. “You look lonely,” he said. “And sad.” As if he could fix both.
I looked at him and lied. “I’m the designated driver.”
He excused himself.
And then I left, to sleep in the back of my car. My bones chilled overnight. Everything hurt when I woke. But that night taught me a lot about humility. Foremost, it doesn’t always feel so great.
For almost all of us, at one point, everything in the world has depended on what some guy or girl thinks about us after last call. Walking away means progress.
The next day, I thanked myself for not grandstanding — even as I drove home with a sickening hangover. And sleeping in my own bed never felt so good — even if my own bed was an air mattress.
You can laugh at me for being pathetic. Tell yourself you’ve never experienced a moment like that. We’ll both know you’re lying. For almost all of us, at one point, everything in the world has depended on what some guy or girl thinks about us after last call. Walking away means progress.
Humility. Internal pride. Dignity. Self-respect. They play off each other. If I’d respected myself, I never would’ve tagged along to that diner.
Since then, I’ve let people insult me. Either directly, or passive-aggressively. It says so much about them. More and more, these idiots come back to me and apologize. They say stuff like, “I didn’t know you were…”
And I accept their apology. But I don’t work with them.
You see, humility is also a great way to audition people. If someone treats you like shit because they don’t know who you are, then they’re not worth a spec of your time. That’s why we have so many fables of royalty disguising themselves as paupers.
The lesson here isn’t that you have to act humble to impress important people, or to “win friends and influence people.” No, you are the royalty in disguise. Don’t forget.
We mistake humility, pride, and confidence all the time. What is humility, except an internal form of pride?
A secret pride, one that matters. One you don’t have to show off.
More than any other trait, humility makes me think about how we want to act when nobody’s watching. When you don’t rack up any bonus points. Nobody cares if I let two girls insult me at some diner at 2 am. So often, true humility looks like weakness. But those moments make you.