Here’s where I try to make good on my intent to be open and honest. I’m not entirely looking forward to this.
April 14, 2015: Harlem, NY
The Programmer: civilized, cute, works at a tech start-up in Manhattan. I’m excited for our date so I can learn more about his experience in the tech world – a field that’s producing cultural-societal change, making big money for the players, and is disproportionately run by men. So I want closer to the action.
But then he arrives at Vinateria and mentions he’s coming from an alumni event for University of Chicago. And I learn a bit more about what he does for work. That’s about when I decide he’s smarter and more successful than I am, and worry that he’s going to catch on. It also doesn’t help that he has an oddly refined, formal quality to his speech that makes him sound like he learned English at a European boarding school instead of the suburbs of San Jose, California.
We both study the cocktail menu, as I wonder which drink will be sufficiently sophisticated. He settles on a basil and gin number – The Basilisk.
“And hopefully, I won’t turn into stone when I look at it,” he muses, so straight-faced that it takes an extra few seconds to register this as a joke.
“Oh! Ha, yes – like Harry Potter, you mean?” I ask, excited to be tracking on his cultural references.
He gazes across the table with a neutral expression: “Or, as in general mythological history, yes.”
&*$#%. Harry Potter!? Yes, of COURSE he’s talking about “general mythological history.”
But perhaps to salvage my Potter comment, he presses on by asking about my “cultural appetites – theater, music, cinema and the like?”
This time I know right away what he’s saying, though none of my answers seems lofty and cultured enough, so I joke that I’m actually a tremendous fan of Arianna Grande.
And then, as he looks at me blankly, I explain who Arianna Grande is. This is going well.
I switch gears to HBO’s Sillicon Valley, hoping he’ll take the conversational bait since he’s in tech AND grew up in the Bay Area. And, success – finally, something we can talk about. This transitions us to the tech world, where we stay the remainder of the night.
The way our conversation proceeds, you’d think I was writing for Wired instead of on a first date, as I launch question after question about his thoughts on women in tech, recruiting strategies, corporate cultures.
And chairs are getting stacked upon tables when The Programmer acknowledges, for perhaps the second time, that he’s been doing most of the talking and he’d really like to hear more about me and my sabbatical. I know it’ a fair comment, but I’m so interested in hearing his thoughts, that I’ve kept the questions coming.
It’s also more comfortable this way. I’m nervous that if I really get talking he’ll see that he’s most likely a bit smarter and more successful than me, and he might think I’m not “sophisticated enough” or “intellectual enough.” I figure if I can keep him talking, maybe he’ll be too distracted to notice that he’s a bit beyond me.
So as we close down the bar and leave and I give him the, “thanks for coming out, great to meet you!” sendoff, probably a bit too much like I’d dismiss a job candidate when I worked in recruiting. No physical contact this time: I’m not about to get stuck in another awkwardly long hug. And I walk home, done with a harmless and interesting 3rd date.
But when I replay the date in my mind at home, I can’t get past the moments The Programmer entreated me to share more about my own life.
Had I chosen to be honest, not to hide behind my own curiosity and attempted charm – the jokes, quips, smiles – maybe we could have had more than an intellectual discussion about technology. Maybe I would have gotten past my intimidation of his credentials, maybe I wouldn’t have worried about the fact that I’ve read a lot more BuzzFeed than the BBC as of late, that I went to a great little private Christian college and not a nationally-prestigious university, that 98 times out of 100 I’d rather listen to the Taylor Swift Pandora station than NPR on my way to work.
It’s taken me quite awhile to write this account because I haven’t known what to make of this pattern that keeps popping up in life. I feel like I’ve written about it too many times before, and I’m irritated it keeps making an appearance.
It’s the pattern of “I’m not (whatever) enough, so I can’t….
I’m not successful enough so I can’t apply for that job…
I’m not cool enough so I can’t talk to rugged airport guy…
I’m not pretty enough so I can’t go out with tall dark handsome college guy…
I’m not together enough so I can’t enjoy this sabbatical because what if I’m making a big mistake by doing all this…
My friend Christina’s going to be a therapist (a great one) and awhile back I mentioned feeling bad because I didn’t think I was whatever enough. But you know what she came back with?
“And so what? What’s so bad about where you’re at? What if it’s okay?
I don’t think the problem is that you’re not whatever enough. You think you “should” be a certain way and you’re not comfortable with where you’re at.
What if where you’re at isn’t such a problem, what if it’s just…where you’re at?”
Maybe this was so revolutionary to me because instead of feeling bad about so many things, worrying so much that I wasn’t blah blah blah blah blah, here was this other option of acknowledging how I felt, accepting it and myself, and moving on. Which sounds quite a bit better for everyone involved, and quite a bit better than writing another 10 blog posts with the same basic storyline of “I didn’t think I was good enough, so I held back…” That storyline just feels old and boring.
I don’t mean to imply there’s no room for self-improvement. But it seems like it needs to be balanced with self-acceptance, too. Maybe we’d be better off to not worry so much about all those perceived “not enoughs” and try and get on with our lives, turning our attention to tend more to those around us instead of worrying about all the areas we perpetually fear we fall short.
So yes, The Programmer went to a better school than I did. And probably makes twice as much money. And has fancier taste than I do. And so what? He still asked about a second date and even if he didn’t, who cares?
Plus, Wikipedia says nothing about basilisks turning their victims to stone when they look at them. But you know where that does happen? Harry Potter. And, per Wikipedia– in fantasy role playing games. So maybe The Programmer was quoting “general mythological history” but maybe he was actually referencing Dungeons and Dragons and was just trying to play it off!!
So here’s where I want to end – when running up against that worry about not being whatever enough, instead of running from it, trying to fix it, trying to hide it; look right at it. Then maybe you’ll defeat it for the time being and get on with life.
Which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like what a Basilisk would do.