I was recently invited to a dinner party where only a few people were known to me. Of course after six wines everyone was like a best friend. But through the hazy view of liquor and assorted cheeses, there was the inevitable small talk.
To my right sat a lovely couple who had been together for 6 years. We had great banter. I often wonder if this is because I’ve always gotten along with those a little older than me.
To my left however sat someone who I like to call “Corporate Man.”
Corporate Man made his first impression with a firm handshake, twisting my wrist so that my hand was under his. A great assertion of dominance. I enjoyed his look of bemusement when I equalled his grasp. He then came in with the line, “So what do you do with yourself?” And so ensued my rehearsed spiel.
I’ve worked since I was 16.
I work for X company.
It was here he stopped me. And I braced myself for Corporate Man’s rebuttal to my life.
“How much experience do you have?”
“Do you know people?”
“How are your networking skills?”
“Oh you haven’t done any placement? Better get on it!”
I could only clench my fists and take the hits as they came firing out of his gaping mouth. When the heavy fire ceased I relaxed my jaw and smiled at him. A small smile, with wilting eyes that gave him the impression that he was correct.
I quickly excused myself from the table, blaming the alcohol for the much needed trip to the bathroom. Once inside I stared at my reflection and wondered, “Is he right? Have I failed after all these years?”
This thought stayed with me the entire night. It even lasted until the next day.
I sought the comfort of a fellow work colleague who had fallen victim to a similar scenario many a time. And then she enlightened me.
“E, it’s a scare tactic. That guy is trying to big himself up to get ahead. It happens all the time to every student/graduate/employee. You’re better than that. Don’t throw away your hard work for a few feeble comments.”
Of course she was right. I wasn't going to stray off course just because Corporate Man had decided to flex his competitive muscles. However I then started to realise that these scare tactics don't just happen to students. They happen to everyone. At every corner.
You know all those Instagram accounts you follow? The ones with the super fit girls who always seem to be on holiday on some far off beach? I can guarantee you, they’re scaring you into thinking your life should be like theirs. They’ve cropped and filtered their tiny virtual square photos to the point of fear inducement. You suddenly start to think, “Why am I not doing that? Why does my smoothie not look as good? Is that really what eyebrows are meant to look like?!”
Or how about the Youtube channels you follow? Those daily vloggers only film the exciting stuff, making you think their lives are a constant video convention. Yet it still strikes you as something you want. You want to be fabulous in London while holding a point-and-shoot at arms length don't you? I know I do.
But there it is! That’s the scare tactic. That constant editing and cropping and use of flowery language. That’s the way we’ve been brought up. To only show the best, strongest, most successful sides of ourselves. And amongst that we have forgotten to be vulnerable. We have lost the ability to simple say, “No, I haven't done as much work as you have.” “No, I’m not photo ready.” “No, I don't get invited to London Fashion Week.”
And here’s the news flash boys and girls: it’s okay to be vulnerable.
So next time someone tries to one-up you, take a step back and think: this person is just as terrified as I am.
And then wine.