I went to a conference and I did speed networking, which is dumb. There’s an inner circle of chairs occupied by people, and an outer circle, also occupied. I sat in the outer circle. Every two minutes, we outer-circlers stood up and moved one chair to our left, then we would lean into the inners, until we were about six inches from touching, and scream our names and occupations at them. (You can’t scream at their face because we’ve all been drinking coffee, so you shout your information directly into the floor.) “We’re a construction management fi—” They touch their ear and shake their head, you lean in, kiss them on their cheek, and scream louder. “WE’RE A CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT FIRM! AND I LOVE YOU! Don’t take my business card because I didn’t plan for this and I don’t have many left!”
Sometimes I feel like such a fake in my job.
I met an inner-circle woman named Kim, and we bonded over sweaty palms and hoarse voices and we spoke later. I spilled my guts to her, as I inevitably do when I feel someone might possibly being thinking, Bart thinks he’s a pretty big deal. She listened to my gut-spilling, which was generally about how I’m not a big deal, and then she said, “When I met you in the line, I had no doubt that you knew what you were talking about. You seem very polished.”
Crowd goes wild. Did you guys hear that? Polished. Because my last name is the same as the company name, I am sometimes asked if I am the owner of the company. Which always seems funny to me. “You think I’m responsible enough to own something? Do I look like I know what I’m talking about?” Apparently I do.
At the conference, on the way out of the bathroom, with some polish in my step, I saw myself in the full length mirror, wearing a blue suit and grown up brown shoes and thought: this guy looks like a guy who knows what he’s talking about. I stood up a little straighter and forced myself into more awkward conversations. No one has to know that I’m playing the role of Professional Bart in the play that is my life. I keep breaking the fourth wall, though. “Did you know, sir, that I’m just acting right now? Yes. This is a performance. I know, it’s a good costume.”
I’m taking this stand-up comedy class, which is something that you’re not supposed to do if you want to be a legit comedian. It’s frowned upon, because after all, you either have it or you don’t. I understand this but figured that this would force me to practice. So far, instead of practicing, important things keep getting in the way, such as literally anything else. But the class has been informative.
The first exercise we did was called “assumptions.” You are to stand on stage in front of everyone whom you met moments before and don’t say a word for one minute. This is awkward. The eight other people in the class stare at you and furiously write down assumptions about you, based solely on appearance, then they tell you what those are.
I have eight note cards as proof. The first one says:
- Drinks a lot of beer
- Stands up for what’s right
I now have those three bullet points tattooed onto my forearm so people will all know what’s up. The cards were remarkably accurate to the person that I am, or who I’m trying to be. I’ll include the best ones:
- You were invited into a frat, but declined
- Liberal Arts Major
- Nice person
- Plays an instrument
- Likes to read, well-read
- Meticulous, clean, organized
- Good friend to people
- Family Oriented
- Guy who goes to the store before a party
- Wears jeans and narrow tie to work
- Renaissance guy; educated, worldly, cultured, sports (but not too much)
- Listens to indie music [four people said this]
Invited into a frat but declined?! No. Big. Deal. I was too busy organizing my meticulously clean room! Just ask my roommates. Guy who goes to the store before a party: besides sounding like a credit in a movie for someone who has a brief role and no name, what a compliment! I want to be that guy. I can be that guy—I already look like that guy. People expect me to go to the store before the party, so if I do it, they won’t be surprised. “Oh yeah, that’s what Bart does. He goes to the store.”
My fear is people seeing straight through me and knowing, just by looking at me, all my weird insecurities, flaws, disappointments, and failures. From conversations with older friends, I’ve learned that this fear doesn’t suddenly go away. There are a few ways to deal with it, I think, but one is to start seeing myself as a family-oriented, nice-guy, organized, Renaissance guy hiker who stands up for what is right, listens to way too much indie rock music and maybe rides a motorcycle. And who definitely goes to the store before a party. What do you need? I’ll pick it up.