Bartholomew J. Simpson — the J., in case you've forgotten, stands for "JoJo" — used to brag about being "an underachiever and proud of it." What I think about this attitude depends, at any given moment, on what I happen to be thinking about my own accomplishments, if any.

Then again, "if any" gives the game away, doesn't it? "Son, I am disappoint" wasn't at all created with me in mind, but I always felt a bit of a sting when I saw it, having failed to live up to everyone's illusions that I was some sort of budding genius who would someday do Great Things. For a while, I blamed blatant laziness; however, lazy people, as a rule, don't stick to things for very long if they require any particular effort, and you'll note that this is the eight hundred sixty-second installment of this series, which has not always been easy to write. So I adopted the stance that I was simply overrated by the tools of measurement in those days, and that it took me entirely too long to discover that fact, if fact it be.

I had reason to distrust those tools. They were still using the 2nd revision of the original Stanford-Binet test when I took it — twice — and my scores varied over a range of forty-eight points, which is not supposed to happen. Even the lower of the two, however, was still pretty good, and I was devious enough as a kid to parlay a reputation for brightness into Getting Away With Stuff, which at my age was only a step or two below stumbling across the Holy Grail. My late brother Paul, four years younger, contended that he was automatically a suspect in certain matters, just by dint of being related to me; I, of course, was unaware of this, as I was unaware of most things outside my experience, having reduced the size of my universe to arm's reach.

The inevitable consequence of being this self-centered, of course, eventually manifested itself as grade-B douchebaggery; by the time I was thirty, no one could stand me, and by the time I was thirty-five, I couldn't stand me. I didn't hit bottom, exactly, but I got close enough to see it, and memories from that era still give me the chills. I had never expected to be happy or anything like that, and of course I wasn't; but I figured I could feign enough contentment to keep myself out of a hospital ward. And somewhere down the line, I managed to persuade myself that the really smart people were, if not necessarily happier, certainly better adjusted to their lot.

And then I read this:

In the SATs I scored in the 99+ percentile on both the verbal and the math sides (like Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer). I was a member of the high school drama club and participated in a summer repertory theater during the summers but my home hobbies were chemistry and electronics.

In grad school I turned to the tech side but I continued with theater well into my 20s, with music into my 40s, and with martial arts into my 50s.

I didn't quite make 99th percentile, though I was apparently well into eye-popping range, judging by the college recruiters who showed up on my stoop. And I never attended grad school, for the most obvious of reasons. Just the same, I know this condition all too well:

It might sound empowering to be good at so many things but it's not. It's frustrating. I've never been able to find my niche in life and at my advanced age it's unlikely that I ever will. Nothing really satisfies me.

I'm not sure a niche exists for me. I'm pretty much at the top of my profession, but so few specialists exist in this realm that "at the top" is practically meaningless; it's like having the cleanest Dairy Queen in Albuquerque. (There are, last I looked, three Dairy Queens in Albuquerque.) And anyway, I haven't defined myself in terms of my job since I left the military several decades ago. A friend of mine says that she draws and plays piano, and teaches school to support these activities; this is almost exactly my attitude to my own position. I do it well because I hate the thought of not doing it well; but, in the manner of Elton John's Rocket Man, "it's just my job, five days a week."

Then again, where I am, wherever the hell that may be, might be where I'm supposed to be after all. For all the up-and-down roller-coaster exasperations I endure — and complain about on the Internet, you may be sure — my life is technically fairly stable: I haven't changed jobs in years, I haven't had to move in over a decade, and if my love life is nonexistent, well, that too is a constant. Still, if it doesn't violate the laws of metaphysics or something, I'd appreciate a look at the road map once in a while.

The Vent

#862
  23 March 2014

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