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Sunday, 20 February 2011

Envy - Cambridge Tab

I am quite alarmingly competent – nay, gifted – at the overwhelming majority of things I attempt to do. This isn’t because of any innate superiority I have and Übermensch I most emphatically am not. But, I do hold tightly to the pragmatic dictum that if you try something and fail at it, you might as well resign yourself to that fact, and find something else to do.

In this respect, Cambridge suits me quite well. I am able to use my ‘badboy writing skills’ to dash off an impressively academic essay, or scribble down some Tab-worthy thoughts for a column without much toil, and at relatively short notice. I can utilise my patience and stupid sense of humour to work with kids through student charities. Generally speaking, I am quite able to wear the uniform of the hyper-competent human when I’m within two miles of Great St. Mary’s, but take me out of this comfort zone, and I quickly flounder.

In situations that require more than the knowledge I can reap from the shelves of the PPS library, I am lost. When the chain comes off on my bike, I just stand and look at it. I regularly have to fish out the packaging of Super Noodles from the bin to check through the instructions for cooking them. Once, I paid a child 50p to re-thread my shoelaces. I have trouble operating photocopiers. I don’t know what a dongle is. I don’t even know what a mortgage is.

But, I tend not to think about these flagrant incompetences; I am just about wise enough not to attempt to validate myself and sculpt my self-identity out of the things that I am shit at. So when being asked in a job interview “What do you do in your spare time?” I am inclined to mention the writing, the sporadic bursts of creativity and the social work. A truthful, but psychologically self-flagellating, alternative response could be: “I sit in my room and swelter in my unclean clothes because, one: I can’t bleed the radiator which has been on full-blast for five weeks now, and two: I don’t know which slot you pour the Lenor into on a washing machine, so I just let my clothes fester.”

But, honestly, what is human greatness if not the ability to cover up one’s flaws? Most people are well adapted at self-presentation, and can carefully cultivate and sanitise the view that other people have of them. We can all take solace in the fact that most successful people just aren’t as fucking marvellous as they make themselves out to be. What if the girl with the beautiful ‘just got out of bed’ look actually spends half her days subsumed by the anxiety of needing to make her raggedy style look authentic? Or, what if Jeremy Twat, who has intellectually reamed you all year, is only so dominant and impressive in supervisions because his inability to make friends has left him with nothing but Wikipedia and RedTube for company?

The social world becomes a less hostile place when you realise that, at the heart of it, every skill, competency or favourable trait that an individual has is tempered by the heinous, depressing and sociopathic inadequacies that they hide from us. It is always easier to see the dazzling and the impressive in what people do, but don’t forget that they, like you, are crippling failures in most other aspects of their life. So, for example, Cheryl Cole might well be seen as a talented, beautiful role model for young girls, but let’s not forget that she was somewhat less inspirational and dignified when she punched a black lady in the face and called her a ‘Caribbean jigaboo’.

A great character can be the perfect disguise for the bad actor – a good mask hides an irksome face.

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