I don’t just seem like I’m perfect on the internet: Why being a crab in a bucket is really not the way to help your self-esteem

Grumpy Readers,

I am amazing. I truly am.  I have achieved more than I ever could have dreamed of as a child.  I try to make the world a better place.  I am continually living and growing and working and doing what I can to make my utility curve hit my budget constraint, wherever that is at the time.

YOU are amazing too.  I mean, assuming you don’t post racist memes or put kids in cages or donate to anti-LGBT causes because you don’t want people who are different to be happy.  (One would think that would be a pretty low bar, but hey, it’s 2020 and Trump is president.)  But there are other things about you that make you amazing, not just the absence of being a horrible person (horrible people sometimes hate-read, but they don’t tend to stick around, so we’re fairly confident in assuming you’re not one of them– if you are, maybe stop being horrible?).

Think on some of the ways in which you are amazing for a moment, and while you do it, pretend that the patriarchy doesn’t exist so when you start on the, “but..” part after the amazing part just shut that down and end it with a period.  There are so many ways– and they are all valid (unless they include hurting vulnerable people).

There’s research that shows that people are, on average, happier when they’re off Facebook, and that the reason they’re happier is because they’re not comparing themselves to other people as much.  But something hidden in that research is that it’s only true on average, and only true for a certain kind of people.  Some people are VERY affected by comparing themselves to others and some people are not affected at all.  And that difference has to do with personality traits, not things like income or types of friends (probably– there’s still more research to be done in this area).

I strongly believe that this need that some people have to feel better than others, high on the relative scale of worth rather than just high in terms of levels is one of the reasons that we have so many social ills today.  Some people are racist because they want to feel better than a group of people no matter how terrible things are for them.  They are sexist for the same reason.  They want to keep the poor from eating because people not like them are undeserving and shouldn’t eat.  Or from marrying because they themselves are not lgbt.  Or from being included because they consider themselves to be an exclusive sort of prosperity-gospel Christian and others are non-Christian.  From this viewpoint, there’s only so much awesome to go around and they need to keep other people from having it, particularly people who are different.

But that doesn’t have to be how it works.  Awesome grows more awesome.  Making the world a better place creates more benefits for everyone, except people who get off on being bigots.

And you, grumpy readers, are not those people.

You know that if you focus on relative awesomeness there will always be someone who appears to be better in one aspect or another.  That can’t be a healthy measure of one’s own worth.  It’s much better to plant your own garden and focus on your wants and your goals.  The argument that everybody has problems they’re hiding so you should feel good about yourself is a good way to keep people down.  The only way to win that game is to not care if other people don’t have problems, and instead to focus on yourself and make comparisons to yourself.  Learn from other people– don’t pull them down.

Grumpy nation, when someone on the internet or in real life seems pretty awesome, that doesn’t mean they have inner demons or a horrible family life or etc. etc. etc. that they’re just keeping hidden.  Maybe they’re just pretty awesome.  And maybe if you want to be like them, you can learn from what they do.  And if you don’t want to be like them, you can be secure in that choice.  Sometimes people have instagrammable holiday decorations because that’s what they value, and maybe that’s not what you value.

Where people end up is a combination of so many factors– structural advantages, luck, effort, preferences, and so on.  We can work to reduce structural disadvantages.  We can remember the importance of luck.  We can change our effort level, or remember why we don’t actually care enough to do so and be mindful of the things we do care about.  What we don’t need to do is pull someone down because they have something we wish we had.

So I’m not going to say that it only seems like I have a charmed life but in reality there’s things going on behind the scenes… because really there’s not.  Each day I think of my blessings with astonishment.  As a child, I never actually believed my life could be this comfortable.  Or maybe you don’t value the things I value and value other things and that’s fine too (assuming you don’t value bigotry– then that’s not fine)!  Remember that when someone else brings perfect Christmas cookies, you get to eat the cookies without having put forth any effort to make them.  And that’s much better than feeling threatened by someone else’s perfection.

In this New Year, if I have any hopes for the grumpy readership, it is that you will think upon how you can use your awesomeness to make the world a better place.  Because there are people with so many disadvantages who are under attack because bad people feel threatened by them.  We have the privilege and the power to fight.  Let’s make 2020 a year of action.

Happy New Year!

What is at least one way in which are you awesome?  (Warning:  NO but/although/even though/etc. allowed.  Just put a period without a disclaimer.)  What are your hopes for helping the world in this New Year?  What are some suggestions for what we can do?

42 Responses to “I don’t just seem like I’m perfect on the internet: Why being a crab in a bucket is really not the way to help your self-esteem”

  1. Michael N Nitabach Says:

    I am awesome bcs I have a very clear view of my character strengths & weaknesses & work hard to keep the latter in check (altho w varied success).

  2. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    I know a LOT about plants and use that knowledge to help other people plant beautiful, low maintenance, mostly native plants! (This is not a metaphor.)

  3. Carol Says:

    I am awesome because I am good at teaching a topic that most people consider difficult to understand. Students who take my section of the (hated) required course come out not only understanding the topic but also internalizing how useful it is in everyday life.

  4. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    This weekend I wrote postcards to potential voters to get them to update their voter registration. Postcards to voters is trying to mitigate the effects of voter purges in Florida and Texas right now.


    I plan to also call about the Iran thing, but probably tomorrow. Here’s celeste_p’s script:
    You: Hi, my name is [name], I’m calling from [zip code].

    You: I’m calling to follow up with [elected] on President Trump’s latest tweets threatening to hit Iran “very fast and very hard”, should Iran decide to retaliate for the death of Soleimani.

    You: I want [elected] to:

    Confirm if there was intelligence suggesting that an attack of some kind was imminent. There have been enough reports in the press to suggest that the administration was incorrect in this public statement.
    Continue to demand answers on why the Gang of 8 was not briefed. The Administration’s habit of circumventing protocol must be addressed and cannot be dropped.
    Support resolutions like Senator Tim Kaine’s, which will help ensure that the Trump Administration will not try and start a war without Congressional approval. The President has proven to have a trigger-hair temper when it comes to Iran – see his June pullback, and the stakes are too high for his tantrums.
    Reiterate that we do NOT want another war in the Middle East,
    Offer support for embassies, major cities, military personnel who are now all on high alert because of rising tensions.

    You: [Optional comments]

    • Carol Says:

      I do Postcards to Voters too, mostly because people whose blogs I lurk on have said good things about it. I wanted to feel like I was contributing something more than money, but am too shy to do calling or texting to strangers.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        They’re great! I signed up with a state indivisible group to do texting but I’m only planning on doing remember to vote texting. I figure baby steps. There’s a special election coming up so I can try it out.

  5. monsterzero Says:

    I am awesome because I help people solve their tech problems every day at my job, also I give to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU every month, and because I cook pretty good vegetarian food for my sweetie and I, and I give our cats lots of cuddles.

  6. natalieinne Says:

    I am awesome because I can play the piano well for choral club and other performances – bonus is I can make money from my awesome skill!

  7. Miser Mom Says:

    I am awesome because the Congolese refugee who I’m teaching English dances to “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” with me, and then her kids join in. And because I just published a book that was reviewed as “groundbreaking” and “innovative”. And because I have managed to rear 6 very, very different kids to adulthood. And my dog truly believes I’m awesome and tells me so every time I walk in the door, and that makes me *feel* awesome.

  8. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    Whenever JB says: Mom, you’re the best! I say: YES I AM.

    I am awesome because even as a misanthrope (not a self confessed flaw, just the truth), I care about the world and do my best to do the right thing the best way I know how. This means that, professionally, I am doing my best to mentor URM. Outside of work, I try to meet people where they are and support those who just need a bit of help to do better for themselves.

  9. xykademiqz Says:

    I’m not too shabby because I’ve achieved what I set out to achieve in my youth (career, family). I remain hungry for new challenges and seek out opportunities to acquire new skills.

  10. Debbie M Says:

    Yes. This!

    I am awesome because I make some delicious foods, I can stay friends with my exes, I am not afraid to use low-status things that help me (like eyeglasses and walking sticks), and I am a world expert on one university’s computerized degree audit.

    I also did my first unprovoked activism thing (by which I mean I thought up the action myself) the other day: someone was catching a lot of flack for sitting on the floor when there were perfectly good chairs around. I recognized that I could help and I sat on the floor with her. Then one of the hosts joined us on the floor, too. (The harrasser is a decent and cheerful person who likes to make people happy with a prince-charming streak but also has an I-know-better streak.)

  11. Cloud Says:

    Oooh this is hard for me. Interesting! But I’ll try.

    I’m awesome because I am really good at organizing work so that things get done without anyone having to work ridiculous hours.

    One of my New Years Resolutions is to start writing postcards again. I fell out of the habit at the end of last year. I saw the new campaign about writing to Democrats who have moved into a flippable district and I think that’s a great use of my activist time… so I’ll be getting some addresses this week!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That is a tremendous skill!

      100% agreed on fighting voter suppression. I need to remember to mail my cards tomorrow. They’re doing a randomized controlled experiment to see if postcards + prefilled forms are better than just prefilled forms. And they’re starting with TX and FL!

  12. rose Says:

    I have continued to write my elected reps constantly and consistently, and your reminders have helped with this.
    I raised two awesome now adults and they are raising two awesome daughters.
    I tell people (even strangers) thank you when they bring kindness or joy or positivity into the world (e.g.: The very senior woman sitting at the bank at Christmas time dressed with holiday earrings that made me smile … and she was surprised and so pleased to be seen and her attention to appearance appreciated. The woman I saw on the street carrying a yoga mat who caused me to straighten my shoulders and take a deep breath which made me feel better, and, when I told her so, she straightened up and smiled too.)

  13. undine Says:

    What I do is communicate the unwritten rules, the ones I never knew (I wrote about it here: https://notofgeneralinterest.blogspot.com/2009/07/rules.html). That’s my superpower and also my mission.

    About baking: I just read your 2011 post (missed it before) and wanted to add that for me, baking is therapy. The final product is kind of irrelevant, although it (point of pride) is usually good.

  14. FF Says:

    I am awesome because:
    I won first prize in a crossword puzzle tournament a few months ago (my first time ever competing).
    I canvassed multiple times in 2018 in my reddish area to help flip my house district. Will be working to keep it blue this year.
    After a major professional failure + unemployment, I successfully changed careers (and I’m great at it).

  15. First Gen American Says:

    Great post.

    I am awesome because I have a thirst for learning always learning something new. I also have the ability to have periods of superhuman productivity at home and work. I also have finally learned that being superhuman isn’t sustainable 100% of the time and I have to pay the piper and crash for a while to recover, recharge and that’s ok. I am a good problem solver. I am levelheaded during a crisis. I prefer to prop people up and inspire them instead of tear them down.

  16. paranoidasteroid Says:

    Uggggh, I need to read this post at least once a week. I am so guilty of useless comparisons wherein I feel bad because I’m not the best at literally everything at the same time.

    So here it is: I am awesome because I have a job that is fun and high-paying. And because I’m a great mom 2 kids and keeping up with the family things I value: dinners together, reading together, and spending time outside together. And because I can balance on my forearms in yoga.

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