I’m Not a Good Person. I’m Not a Hard Worker. I’m Not Special.

Being born in 1981, my childhood was fully infused with an overdose of the teachings of the Care Bears and The Get Along Gang. I’m referring to that mantra that all adults (and Smurfs) seemed to further convince us of, during that Ecto Cooler drenched decade:

You are special. You can do anything you put your mind to.

You become anything if you truly belief in yourself.

And then I graduated college and got a real job. And then I got married. And then I had kids.

Responsibilities and reality started kicking in, and gradually, I felt less and less special. Less of the good person I always believed I was. Less of the hard worker I assumed I was. And just not quite as special.

Yeah, all that Lucky Charms marshallowy goodness talk… turns out it was all fluff.

The real world doesn’t work that way. The real world wasn’t as easy to win over as I expected it to be.

Instead, I actually have to prove myself on a daily basis to compete with the free market, even if that struggle is not obvious in my weekly highlight reel on Facebook.

The real world doesn’t care if I think I’m a good person, a hard worker, or special.

What does it even mean to be a “good person”? Compared to whom? Compared to the people who are better or worse than me at certain things? Compared to an ax murder or compared to a missionary in a 3rd world country?

What does it even mean to be a “hard worker”? Compared to whom? Compared to everyone who shows up to work and does their job too?

What does it been to be “special”? Even as a kid, I started realizing that if everyone is special, then by default, we fundamentally cannot all be special.

Instead, here’s the truth that I officially had taught myself by age 34; when life finally started making more sense to me:

It’s not about being a good person, a hard worker, or special. Because all of those things are just relative to everyone else around us.

And if I live my life thinking that I truly am a good person, a hard worker, and special, then ultimately, I’m more likely to believe that I deserve things in life.

That is one toxic word.

Deserve.

It’s always a red flag when I hear someone say it now.

A person who thinks they deserve something is going to feel entitled. When they don’t get those things they think they deserve, they will become disappointed. And when they become disappointed, they will blame other people; not themselves. And when they blame other people, society just isn’t going to take that “victim” seriously.

In the end, the victim creates a reputation and lifestyle that causes them to miss out on opportunities than others are now given instead.

Because what it’s really about is being the most dependable and available person. Not the good person, not the hard worker, not the special person.

What it’s really about the person who’s willing to do those tasks that no one else is able or willing to do.

It’s really about being the creative person who’s willing to take risks and introduce more efficient and effective ideas.

So yes, it’s true.

I’m not a good person. I’m not a hard worker. I’m not special.

And I use that to my advantage.

 

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Drinking Kool-Aid and Watching the Smurfs

Childhood isn’t a place too long gone for me; it’s what the attic of my head is wallpapered in.

For many of us, childhood was one of the brightest, most promising times.  Therefore, it remains today as a safe, heartwarming place in our minds.  A place where we can return to, like remembering a good dream, whenever we want.  And thanks to the people who are still alive who share those memories with us, we have access this seemingly imaginary fantasy world that we were all once a part of.  In a land called The Eighties.  Or Nineties.  Or Sixties.  (There are several to choose from.)

My literary teacher Michael Chabon explains it (he doesn’t know who I am, in reality) in a way that would make me jealous that he thought of it first, except for the fact if it weren’t for studying his style, I wouldn’t be the same writer I am today.  He refers to mutual collected memories in his book Manhood for Amateurs as “an entire network of tunnels, secret passageways, into the past”. 

We carry the exclusive memories of each other in the hard drives of our own minds, sporadically reminiscing to make sure of the validity of the events, and to glean from the enhanced emotions attached to them. 

The way my mind works, I can’t just simply open a file in my head entitled “Childhood: 1981-1993”.  Instead, these scattered gems are embedded along with all other memories and knowledge.  So when I click on one file, there’s sure to be a random childhood memory hanging on to it. 

And sometimes I just have flashes of them.  Like the Spring and Summer of 1989 (2nd grade) when I played baseball.  The pings of the aluminum bats, the crickets singing their alien songs in the moist, freshly cut baseball fields.  The sun going down as each game began. 

And when I go to that place, I remember how I had the biggest crush on Meg Guice, who never had a clue.  Yes, those were the days were drinking Kool-Aid; my favorite flavor being the short-lived “Sharkleberry Fin”, only second to Hi-C’s “Ecto Cooler”.  When Saved by the Bell hadn’t quite arrived, so The Smurfs pretty much taught me what I needed to know about society. 

Memories of being in Cub Scouts, riding the bus from school every Tuesday to the First Methodist Church, where my parents (the scout leaders) met us there with the aforementioned Kool-Aid and some adventurous craft assignment, like a bug collection (in which Matt Hall brought in a dead bat) or brainstorming about the upcoming Pinewood Derby race (which I won 1st place overall in 1991, thanks to my dad’s craftsmanship). 

I could go on, but I have a feeling by this point, some of your own childhood memories have been stirred up.  Don’t let me interrupt that for you.  Have fun.