A Recent Dilemma

I think I’m having some kind of…existential motivation crisis?

Like, I was brought up to believe that my intelligence, talents and skills made me better than other people. Good grades, high test scores, admission to gifted programs, praise from teachers for my creativity and ingenuity, all meant that I was better than people who didn’t have those accomplishments.

There’s a lot of research that shows that “gifted” kids tend to grow up to be terrified perfectionists who would rather not try at all than fail or fall short of expectations. Which is as true of me as anyone else, and super fun times for sure.

But there’s another piece of it I’ve been noticing lately, which is that I don’t really believe in the IQ meritocracy I was raised in anymore. As an adult I’ve had enough engagement with disability politics and race/class divides to realize that I can’t separate what may or may not be my innate skills from my upbringing as a white kid with well-off parents, and that the whole idea of “intelligence” and the systems that recognize and codify it are massively flawed.

I’m NOT better just because I have a large vocabulary and enjoy linear algebra and write well and scored 99th percentile on standardized tests in middle and high school. Or whatever. I don’t automatically deserve special treatment because I meet certain definitions of smart.

And I think I’ve adjusted to that okay in terms of identity—like I don’t feel personally victimized by this change in worldview, I don’t feel inadequate as a person because of it, because the corollary of “I’m not that special” is “everyone deserves kindness and compassion and affirmation just for being human,” and that includes me.

But it makes it really hard to put myself forward for things like job opportunities. (It’s more than watching TV being more interesting than filling out applications, more than hating writing cover letters because no one likes those.) I’m not special, I’m not Better Than, so why should a company hire me over someone else? How can I ethically talk myself up and convince employers I’m awesome when I now know the whole system is based on a lie?

I really need a job, and I’m competent at plenty of things, but that’s true of lots of people—why me instead of them? Because that’s the kind of rig capitalism is: some win and many lose. Do I suck it up and play the game even though it makes me feel gross because that’s just how the world works right now? Is this just a type of Imposter Syndrome and I should get over it? Is there some other way I can think of this process that sidesteps the issue entirely?


2 thoughts on “A Recent Dilemma

  1. There’s a difference between the self-confidence required to go out and DO things and the belief that others who don’t have your (both innate and acquired, both deserved and undeserved) privileges shouldn’t even try.

    Some of your privilege is earned. Some is unearned. All of it is privilege.

    To me, what’s important is not the opportunities that open up to you because of your privilege, but rather what you do with those opportunities once you have them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can identify with this somewhat. Though for me, it was more of a motivation thing and less of a self-confidence and self-esteem thing. But I get where you were coming from when you wrote this. I don’t feel that way most of the time now, but early-mid last year when I was unemployed and job hunting and kind of a mess, what you describe was sort of what I felt like. Nobilis made some good points, too.


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