“Typical”: Why A Comparative Culture Shouldn’t Get Us Down

Culture — By on February 20, 2013 at 7:00 am

I work in a city full of starving artists. Dream-chasers. People who throw around more letters than a first-grade class. “CAA.” “SAG.” “USC.” “WME.” “DGA.”

There’s a huge level of social prowess that comes with being able to associate yourself with any of the more flashy acronyms. That guy with the snaggletooth is a TV producer? Well…maybe I can find some time to talk to him after all.

For those of us more on the freelance end of things, we have to find other talking points. “Hey, I’ve collaborated with that one famous person.” “I’m also working towards a Ph. D.” “Oh, did you know that I’m in the credits for Teen Movie 4?

My personal favorite is, “I once got retweeted by [insert celebrity here]!”

And I’ll admit it. I’ve already been in LA too long to want to accept someone’s significance based on words alone. Lately my eyes instinctively glaze over whenever someone informs me that they’re an actor. I mean, come on. Just tell me if you’re a waiter or a receptionist and get it over with.

But part of the reason I have so much trouble granting the worth of other people is because it’s gotten harder and harder to feel significant myself. It was so much easier back when it was just my mom telling me that I wrote a great paper, and not the whole Internet waiting to pounce on my thoughts and tell me why I’m wrong and show me fifteen people who had the same idea I did (the difference being that one of those people works at Buzzfeed so people actually read his ideas).

Sometimes I miss feeling special.

My baby sister just got her SATs back, and she beat my old score in the Reading Comprehension section. I was a little hurt, but then I told myself that I’m already so much smarter than I was in tenth grade that it doesn’t even matter.

There’s a statistic I heard once that everyone does something better than ten thousand other people in the world. When you consider that this includes the physically and mentally handicapped, the very elderly, and small children, it makes an even better case for those of us who are some level of young, smart, and athletic. We must be pretty awesome compared to a lot of people.

But then we run into making comparisons across our own demographic. Which is the fancy way of saying “Facebook envy.” Since we know the job title and relationship status and hairstyle of every single person we’ve met since sixth grade, it’s almost impossible not to start weighing our own accomplishments against that one guy from Psych class.

A low point for me was during the Golden Globes when I thought I heard Adele say that she was “twenty-fouh.” I Googled it, and sure enough, she only has a year on me.

“In a whole year from now,” I told myself, “I could totally have nine Grammys and a baby too if I wanted.”

But then I remembered that Jennifer Lawrence is younger than me and was back to having a quarter-life crisis.

Yes, I know it’s sad. Sue me.

I mention often to people that a year ago I was carless, jobless, and technically homeless. Even now, I just wrapped another show and am unemployed for the moment. I find that I need to remind myself of those things to keep from trying to glamorize my TV work and present myself as a super-awesome person who is any more talented or worth knowing than any of my friends.

But it’s embarrassing how easy it is to slip into that anyway.

Ever notice how when you meet someone, the first question you ask is, “So, what do you do?” An acquaintance that learned your name and then asked, “So, who are you?” would quickly make it onto your weird-people-from-that-mixer list. What a ridiculous and inappropriate question.

But it’s really a question that we don’t ask ourselves enough.

If you make enough money to feed yourself, know good people who would feed you if you needed it, and have enough time to enjoy both food and company, then I’d say you’ve reached the basic level of success. Sure, it’s nothing particularly special, but neither are any of us.

Some of us work at Starbucks, some at Southwest Airlines, and some at The White House…and if any of those places lose an employee, it’s a setback. But since no one is truly irreplaceable, it’s not a setback from which the company can’t recover.

Losing Steve Jobs was incredibly sad thing for our country. But Apple is still running. Losing my grandfather a few years ago was also incredibly sad. But my family is still intact.

So what am I trying to prove with this time that I’m alive?

And to whom am I proving it?

My parents were proud of me when I took my first steps, and when I started paying my own phone bill. I’m a functional human being. Anything else is icing on the cake.

I’d hate to look back and realize that I spent all of my time comparing myself to a bunch of people that I barely remember just because they seemed in some way cooler than me at the time.

I’m going to probably live a pretty normal life, and then I’ll write about it and people will probably be able to relate to it because they live normal lives too. And we’ll all be average together and do the same types of things for fun and tell stories about the more notable average things that happened to us that week as we have typical backyard barbeques.

But it’ll be great because we’re not stuck trying to prove anything. We can be real about the fact that while having an awesome job or talent scores us big points while schmoozing at parties now, in the long run, no one’s going to remember it.

Doesn’t that take a load off?

Image via Flickr.


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