As children, we were warned by overprotective parents about the dangers of everyday life:
- Don’t go out after dark.
- Never talk to strangers.
- Stop eating that.
- Get your finger out of there.
But the threat they forgot to warn us about was perhaps the most dangerous. A power capable of obliterating the hopes and dreams of a fully-formed adult in mere moments. A weapon so dangerous, yet so common, that it is already lurking in nearly every home across America:
The World Wide Web.
Because on the internet, for every hobby you’ve ever had, every sport you’ve ever played, everything you’ve ever wanted to be good at, there is someone immensely, nay infinitely, more talented than you. And they probably look better doing it too. Lurking behind each YouTube thumbnail is a well-camouflaged bear trap, waiting to violently snap shut on your already fragile sense of self-worth.
On my way to the shower to cry, I try and remind myself, aren’t all brilliant minds tortured with the fear of inadequacy?
Oh, you used to skateboard in middle school? Thought you had a pretty sweet kick flip?
Meet pro skater Timmy Finklestein: he’s 15, and the only thing more jaw-dropping than his million-dollar sponsorship deal is his thick, lustrous, flowing blonde hair. He’s currently touring in Spain, dating a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover girl, and owns a vacation estate in Monte Carlo. When asked about his staggering god-given talent at such a young age, Timmy replies, “It’s whatever, you know?”
Meanwhile, you’re almost 30, and praying for a 4% raise this year.
And that’s just the first video you watched today.
So, before clicking the next thumbnail about a Japanese kid who’s just found the cure for malaria in his bedroom, take a moment and prepare yourself. Because you’re about to take a trip on the self-loathing express. Next stop, crying in the shower.
As a writer, just jumping on The New Yorker’s website fills me with existential dread. The hits to my ego begin to roll in within moments of loading the site. The winner of this week’s caption contest decimated what I thought was an especially clever submission I entered last week. In a playful twist on the current state of political turmoil, the winner turned a drawing about a shoe into a witty satire on corporate greed.
Jesus Christ. It was brilliant. And way better than my play on the old woman who lived in a shoe.
Granted, it wasn’t my best work. And I can see how one could miss the connection between skyrocketing rent prices in San Francisco and the analogy of the old woman who lived in a shoe being forced to downsize from a size 10 to a size 6. Though it was still better than my other idea involving a clown using the pickup line, “You know what they say about shoe size?”
In retrospect, my loss in the caption contest shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
In an attempt to move on, I scroll further down the page, but only descend deeper into self-loathing. I stumble upon an article about an author who, despite never having written anything before, is already receiving critical acclaim in the literary scene. Evidently the first three chapters of the manuscript were so spellbinding that it’s already garnering attention from the Pulitzer Prize Board. Did I mention the author is a poverty-stricken, 11-year-old Cambodian girl who writes on a typewriter, with her toes, because she has no arms?
Meanwhile I’m sitting in front of a MacBook Pro trying to figure out if the word “butt” or “bum” is funnier within the context of my story. All while simultaneously trying to remind myself that many starving artists don’t hit their stride until later in life.
And sure, that Cambodian girl had overcome a seemingly impossible amount of adversity to create a masterpiece, but I face adversity too. Why, just yesterday I was complaining that the “L” key seems to be stuck on my keyboard. Presumably, crusted over with excess donuts frosting I neglected to suck off my fingers.
I try to exit the page before sinking any lower but instead I end up going back to Google search the winner of the caption contest. Surely with such eloquent and succinct writing the author is certain to be some old-timer, fueled by a lifetime of experience spent honing their craft.
Instead I stumble upon nine other articles by the same author, published in only the most highly-reputed literary publications. Each one flows like water, until the moral of the story crashes down upon you, with the weight of your wasted youth.
Then I see that the writer is not only two years younger than me, but also notably more handsome and well-dressed. Let’s recap: more accomplished, younger, more handsome. This is the holy trinity of confidence killers. And it’s a devastating blow.
On my way to the shower to cry, I try and remind myself, aren’t all brilliant minds tortured with the fear of inadequacy? Aren’t many of our most celebrated artists only given their due after their untimely passing? I mean, Van Gogh didn’t even have access to the internet and he was so tortured by his own shortcomings, he cut his ear off. Edgar Allen Poe was never exposed to the horrors of anonymous message board trolls and he drank himself to death in a gutter.
Maybe this is all just a part of my pre-determined fate. And if I keep working hard, maybe I too will die alone and unaccomplished, only to receive my due fame and fortune upon my tragic demise.
At least, that’s the feeble lie I’ll keep telling myself as I inhale a second bag of Funyuns while watching the live stream of that 11-year-old Cambodian girl accepting her Pulitzer, with her toes, because she has no arms.