And other lies that people press upon us
One of the fastest ways you and I can make asses out of ourselves, so goes the old joke, is when you and I ass-ume things about other folks. Truth is, we have no clue about their lives, their battles, their issues or what comes naturally. The most basic of psychology training teaches that you and I project our traits- good, bad, ugly- onto others. That would explain, at least in part, why folks say what they say to us.
For example, in response to a Medium.com article I wrote about undermining ideas about aging vibrantly, fellow writer Arthur Holmes-Brown shared a classic conversation which underscores my point:
WORK COLLEAGUE: “So are you still doing the running?”
ME: “Yeah 8km most lunchtimes… unless I’ve run from home to work, 3km in which case the 6km total is fine”
WORK COLLEAGUE: “You must be a ‘natural’”
ME: “Well…when I started I could barely make it around my block. I was doing so much wrong and had to learn to……
WORK COLLEAGUE: [cuts me off] …”You must be a natural.”
Arthur, like most folks I know, had to start somewhere. That somewhere is usually rookie status. We fail, we flop, we fuck up. We flounder. That is the process by which you and I reach any kind of competence. Beyond competence, if we’re dedicated, we may reach a level of mastery.
That’s for anything.
In Arthur’s case, and I am going to just point out the essence of his conversational partner’s points as I understand them, is that the other person apparently cannot conceive that Arthur’s ability to grind out 8km regularly during his lunch break didn’t “just happen overnight.”
If Arthur can do this, and his coworker likely cannot, then such endurance running comes easily. As in, no effort whatsoever.
That’s despite Arthur’s attempt to point out that the opposite is, in fact, true.
This kind of fantasy thinking has nothing to do with Arthur, or anyone else who has put in the slogging time and dime to build a skill worth something. While it’s fair to say that you and I might possess a skill for math, or languages, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of effort involved with developing that skill.
Sabrina Paterski, one of the best minds in the world, doesn’t know physics just because she’s brilliant. She didn’t build an airplane just because the blueprints appeared in her brain at 13. She still had to study. Physics may come naturally to her but that doesn’t absolve her of the work, study, time and hard labor to learn how to apply those abilities.
By the same token, a natural athlete doesn’t instantly know all the NFL plays on the team, by magic. It’s hard work to memorize them, then put them into play on the field with large trucks otherwise known as linebackers coming after yore punkin haid, as we said in the South.
RGIII was such a “natural.” Yet, despite his considerable natural talents he squandered his career within barely two short years.
The implication is that by being a natural, everything is easy. Nope.
In the same way, none of us shows up ready to rumble the New York Marathon without copious training.
Okay, well, some do, just like idiots with too much money and not enough sense god gave a goose try to climb Everest without proper gear and training.
Arthur’s comment scrapes off my epidermis in the same way that so many people tell me that the body I inhabit, which is tall and slim and muscled, comes to me so easily. That I clearly don’t have to work at it. Naturally fast metabolism.
I have no idea who the hell they’re talking to, but that’s not me. I battled obesity and eating disoders and put in tens of thousands of gym hours, running, hiking, kayaking, biking, yoga, you name it, to have this body. Not a goddamned thing natural or easy about it. And, the older I get the more work I have to put in to keep what I do have, because my metabolism is just that slow.
Still, I guess it satisfies some kind of jealousy gene to accuse others of being a natural, or having it easy. Since the advent of social media’s comparison culture, this has exploded utterly out of any kind of sanity.
It’s perfectly understandable to want to put our best foot forward into the world. Long before the Internet, many if not most of us would fudge the facts a bit while dating or job hunting.
That very human desire to be or at least appear to be more than what we are has been enabled to the nth degree by social media. You and I can appear to be anything we want. We can manipulate our images, not only fudge but completely fabricate “facts” about ourselves. Ask anyone who dates online; 81% of people lie about something important on dating sites. Not just that: 85% lie on our resumes.
It’s so widespread that these days, those of us who date and those of us who have to review resumes do so knowing that the likelihood of having the Real Thing show up is small indeed.
Yet even knowing this, people look at our feeds, our Facebook falsehoods, our curated ‘gram shots and assume, wrongly, that everyone else is living a perfect life. Everyone but themselves. No wonder folks are angry. However, that anger is based on fantasy thinking.
The pressure for perfection, which is part of what drives this insanity, is part of why we envy and attack those whom we perceive to have a better life than ours. It’s also why some take perverse pleasure when those people- whom we’ve labeled perfect- take a tumble.
I found the same kind of thing among women. I wasn’t acceptable to many females until they found out that I’d been obese, and therefore imperfect.
Arthur’s work friend appears to be making excuses, as do we all, for our own laziness or lack of motivation by utterly dismissing Arthur’s hard work and dedication, and stating that he’s a natural.
Here’s one cost of being a “natural:” my big brother was a natural and gifted artist, athlete, writer, composer. Things came easily to him, as did seduction and dishonesty. He gamed his way through life and work and women, until, finally facing down the lies of his lack of effort, his lack of integrity and his utter unwillingness to do the true hard work of the soul, he took his life eight years ago this past October.
Having things come easily to us does not make for an easy life. Not at all. While my brother isn’t necessarily indicative of all such naturally gifted people, I simply find it both ignorant and rude of people who default to such labels and excuses without hearing the story behind what makes things look so damned easy for others.
Chances are, as with Arthur, we might discover years of tears and travail and plenty of trepidation, mixed results, giving up and ghosts of our failures following us around in the wee hours.
We face them down. We do it enough, you and I, it looks easy to others.
Natural. Of course it does.
Every person I have ever met, read about or researched who made some aspect of life look effortless put years of effort into making what they do look effortless.
The price of a rather effortless life cost my brother his.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I prefer to do the work. So does Arthur.
And so do the rest of us so-called “naturals,” who don’t need to lie on our resumes, Linked In profiles or Facebook feeds. If you ask us, we’ll tell you how we got to the point where it looked so easy.
But not if you cut us off in the middle of the conversation.
With thanks to Arthur for permission to use his story.