You can learn a lot from someone who shoots all their chances in the head, then brags about their aim.
For starters, you learn how to duck.
I got really good at steering through conversations with one guy I’ll never forget — a colleague of mine for several years who finally ditched all his classes in the middle of one semester to “pursue his dreams” in the great Big Apple. It happens more than you’d think.
“It’s time to stop playing the little leagues,” he told me. “I’m way overqualified for this job anyway.”
I said, “Are you sure you don’t want to finish out the semester?” At least that way, he could salvage his professional references.
But nope, he’d already struck the match. He had to set something on fire. Might as well be his backup plan. Some people seem to revel in their defeats. Self-destruction is a strange drug you don’t want to try.
He is already perfect.
Some people are so talented at self-sabotage and delusion, they deserve their own Dostoevsky novel. The most unsuccessful person I ever knew couldn’t have tried harder to screw up his own life.
Sometimes you see self-help advice and think, “Does anyone actually not know this already?” The answer is yes.
He doesn’t know. Him.
This guy. The already-perfect guy.
The just-waiting-to-be-discovered guy.
He’s the one whose logic baffles you, the one who most desperately needs to read this self-help stuff. But he won’t. He’s already perfect, at least in his head. Here’s a list of what he does best.
He marvels at himself
You’ll stand there by the coffee station, between conference panels, as he goes on and on about how good he is at networking. None of the people he’s come here with are making connections like he is.
His idea of networking involves introducing himself to professionals way out of his league and handing them his business card.
It’s also his approach to dating.
His ideas are the best. More than once, he congratulates himself in front of people. “I don’t even know where I come up with this stuff!”
One time he says, “I’m the real deal,” during a professional development workshop where he’s the least qualified person in the room.
He talks a big game
This guy’s always telling you about his epic, six-part autobiography. You’re not sure how a single white 30-something who hasn’t accomplished anything could possibly write 700 pages about himself.
He’s also working on six other projects, none of which he’ll ever finish. He just enjoys telling everyone about them.
Don’t make the mistake I did, and agree to give feedback. He’ll send you a fifty page chapter about his prom night.
He won’t take criticism
You’ll suggest he cut down the 50-page chapter about prom to, like, maybe half that long? You’re trying to be nice.
His face will turn purple. He’ll ask if you grasped all his allusions and themes and analogies. Well, did you?
How many times did you read his draft?
See, you greatly misunderstood what he was trying to accomplish. You owe him an apology, if you want to keep working together.
Later, he’ll brag to you about a book contract. But the contract will fall through, when he starts similar fights with his editor.
He already knows everything
He’ll apply for better jobs and ask for feedback on his teaching. You’ll observe him and gently make suggestions. Oh, he’s already doing that. There won’t be a scholar alive he hasn’t read.
His conversations begin with the pretense of asking for tips. But he really just wants to hear how great he is.
He wants to give you advice.
Every class begins with a short lecture to his students about how he succeeded. He finds himself very inspiring to others.
He doesn’t know what he wants
One week he wants to be a full professor. The next he wants to start a literary journal. And the one after that, he wants to publish a graphic novel.
To borrow from Ryan Holiday, this guy wants to have books with his name on them. He doesn’t want to do the work.
He doesn’t enjoy the journey at all.
This explains why he spends most of his time schmoozing with other faculty. Or at least that’s what he thinks he’s doing.
In reality, we’re all just too nice to tell him to go home and get to work.
He never teaches himself anything
This is the guy who doesn’t know how to build a simple website. The guy who gets confused by Google Docs.
All that would be fine, except see above. He doesn’t take advice or criticism. This is how someone makes it into their 30s calling themselves a writer, but doesn’t know what a query letter is.
Who doesn’t understand the term “masthead.”
This guy wants you to show him how to use Google Drive. But then halfway through your impromptu help session, he feels embarrassed and starts pretending that he already knows what you’re saying.
He starts correcting you, explaining how the wrong way actually makes more sense to him.
Yes, the wrong way is always the right way to him.
He berates other people
You can forgive almost any sin. Most of us don’t know anything when we first start out. We embarrass ourselves. We show up knowing less than expected, with humiliating gaps in knowledge.
But we learn. Most importantly, we don’t judge others for their shortcomings — because we know how far back we started ourselves.
We live by the simple rule that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Sure, maybe an arrogant question. Maybe a question that’s not really a question. But never a stupid one.
Already-perfect guy ignores this simple but crucial law of human interaction. Maybe you see him threatening a student. Or he calls other people stupid so often it begins to irritate you.
Maybe you find out everyone has a story about his secret temper — that when all else fails, he can just pitch a fit.
He doesn’t pay it forward.
For all the sympathy and charity this guy receives, he gives none of it back into the world. He is, quite frankly, an asshole. And so this guy blows his last chance with anyone who might’ve helped him.
This is how some people blaze through life — never learning, always posturing, always judging. We fool ourselves into thinking they only exist in comic strips. No, they’re real. Worse, any one of us can become that guy. That’s why we have to be careful. We have to remind ourselves what it means to live, over and over again.