Dear Unsolicited Self-Assessments

Dear Unsolicited Self-Assessments,

I was at a house party last weekend talking to a guy I'd met once before who supposedly works in my office building. We talked about work for a second. The man explained that he liked his job even though the pay wasn't great. He took a sip of his drink. Then the distant colleague opened his mouth and said, "Yeah... I'm a people person." 

I told him I was an objective, independent source person. Then I rejected his little theory. That may sound harsh, but (A) I had already been listening to a lot of self-indulgent, solipsistic dribble that week, and (B) he wasn't a people person. When I walked up to him he was sitting by himself in a chair, playing Angry Birds in a room full of people.

As fate would have it, I was to be subjected to two more meaningless self-assessments before the cock crowed twice that night. Admittedly, I brought one of them upon myself.

After parting ways with the Angry Birds player who thought he was a people person I stumbled across a young couple sitting at the island in the kitchen. They were drinking wine out of wine glasses just like grown-ups and the man was even swirling his wine around vigorously within the glass. The girl was wearing a shirt that said, "Rock Star" and the guy's shirt read, "Party Animal." I had drunk a little myself so I didn't hesitate to interrupt the limp conversation they were having with the middle-aged women leaning against the other counter.

"Well, well, well. The Rock Star and the Party Animal. Somebody just dialed this party up to 11." I gave them a friendly grin.

They laughed. "Yeah, we like to go out a lot," the girl added. "And he's always ready to party. Sometimes I have to like carry him out to the car at the end of the night."

"I'm a little crazy," her boyfriend added, taking a sip from his well-aerated wine as if to prove his point. They were good-natured, so we talked a while longer. Ten minutes later the conversation circled back around to how crazy they were and how much they liked to party. 

"Some people might think it's weird or something that we go out and drink as a couple, or that we like, like to party so much, but you know, we aren't normal, you know? Fuck normal. That's what I say. We're a rock star... (looks down at own shirt) ...and a party animal." 

His girlfriend giggled. "Did you just forget what your shirt said?"

"Yeah," he laughed.

Who knows; maybe they were rock star party animals. I doubt it, but if they were then I'm a little disappointed they never laid out a rail of coke in the bathroom and gave me the nod. In either case, the person least qualified to decide what qualifies as a party animal is the person calling himself a party animal.

But isn't it always that way? It's always the fat chick who wears the sweatpants with "yummy" printed on the ass. It's always the insipid, cardboard-cutout people who tell you they're "crazy." It's like explaining the punchline after a joke. If you have to tell people that it was a joke after you tell them the joke, it wasn't a joke... at least not a very good one. 

Everyone wants to be their own PR/marketing spin doctor. They want to craft their own brand identity and define who they are to the rest of the world; the problem is that most people suck at it. The key to branding is working within the parameters of your actual strengths and weaknesses. But that requires being bluntly honest with yourself about what those strengths and weaknesses are. Most people end up trying to compensate for their insecurities instead. The pansy who decides his new nickname will be T-bone. 

Even the professionals don't get it right half the time.

Mini Cooper has decided its new nickname will be Cool Hip Indie Crazy Car, because it's like so NOT NORMAL or boring or anything like that. Fuck the man. Woohooo. Tattoos. Beards. Breaking rules.

Nice try, giant corporate entity that is Bayerische Motoren Werke Aktiengesellschaft. Everyone knows you can't give yourself a real nickname. It's only the nicknames other people give you that stick. And I'm officially nicknaming Mini the "Shitmobile."

So where was I? That's right; the house party last weekend. It was getting to that point in the night when the sober people had begun to leave and the concentration of drunks and people passed out on sofas was increasing at an alarming rate. On my way out the door I slunk past a cluster of drunks. Their voices were inexplicably loud in that way that only an inebriated person's can be. An altercation was brewing as I tried to sneak by unnoticed. 

"Don't tell me how to talk to my girlfriend," someone bellowed.

"You have no idea how to treat a woman," a female voice shouted.

I turned my body side ways and squeezed between the girl and the closet door.

"You don't know me. You don't know shit about me," he answered. "You can't fucking judge me!"

I was almost to the door. From the corner of my eye I saw one of the other drunks look in my direction.

"You're such an asshole, Michael!"

I reached the door and stepped outside. A cool autumn breeze caressed my face as I pulled the door shut behind me with the whispery thud of stainless steel hitting weather stripping. It was cigarette weather, and I pulled one out of my crumpled, near-empty pack. I could still hear angry, muffled voices from inside as I descended the concrete steps. I hung a left onto the sidewalk and disappeared into the night.

He was probably right. She most likely couldn't judge him in her inebriated state; but I could.

First off, people who say "you don't know me," are usually talking to people who know them pretty well. But let's say we don't know each other at all and you tell me; "Don't judge me. You don't know me." Because you also don't know me, you really have no idea how much I know or don't know about you. For all you know, I've bugged your house and have listened in on every conversation you've had for the last ten years. Maybe I wear sunglasses and follow your every move in a big black Mercedes. Maybe I work for the NSA. Nothing sets my irony alarm off faster than an ignorant accusation of ignorance.

Secondly, people who don't know you are the perfect people to judge you. In fact, our entire justice system is premised upon the notion that the people doing the judging shouldn't know the parties involved. That's why Lady Justice is wearing a blindfold.

Stop telling me who you are. When you talk about yourself I trust you less than I trust a politician or a used car salesman. You have no idea who you are. Theoretically you know the most about you, but your judgement is so biased that it's completely worthless.

Telling me who you are isn't just boring, however. It's also bad storytelling. One of the golden rules of creative writing is "show, don't tell." It's good advice for writing. It's better advice for creating an image for yourself.

When I see you in the VIP room of a club, snorting coke off a hooker's ass at eight in the morning after twelve hours of balls-to-the-wall partying, I might be like, "hey, that dude is a real party animal." When I meet you in the kitchen at 10 P.M. and you're wearing a shirt that says "Party Animal" I might be like, "hey, that dude really wishes he were a party animal. What a fucking loser."

Don't tell me who you are. Show me who you are. Then I'll tell you who you really are. You get to choose whether to listen or not.

Sebastian Braff


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