What do you do when you achieve without trying?
April 22, 2012 1:38 AM   Subscribe

How do people deal with 'success' they never sought, and with what we call 'talent' and 'intelligence'?

I don't seek and am not interested in 'success,' or status, or accolades, or having others look up to me. I don't think like that. What I do want is to be myself. My issue is that when I do let myself be myself, I am doing things which make me stand out. That might be doing a number of things well and extending them beyond how they've been done before. In my experience this can happen without much application on my part, and people can hate you for this, doubt themselves in comparison to you, try to pull you down, look up to you, avoid dealing with you because they think you're doing alright as it is, and any number of other reactions. What I mean is it's like becoming slightly less of a person and more of an 'other.' It's less about who you are and more about people's perceptions and inner issues.

This puts me in a position I don't want to be in. I'm not a heirarchical person - I don't follow and I don't want to lead, so I don't like it when I become a figurehead, or conversely when people want to tear me down.

But it's got to the point where I've denied myself for so long that I'm becoming quite miserable and not as nice to be around as I could be. I'm working in terribly low paid and menial jobs. I don't want to end up a bitter old eccentric woman living in a trailer park! I have to deal with this, and that's going to mean dealing with achievement.

I suppose it's relevant that my family is pretty unsupportive, I somehow ended up being different to them in terms of intelligence, I'm from a fairly working class background, I'm introverted, I never had a good education, I've always slipped through the cracks because I looked like I had it together, I have always disliked educational institutions and structured learning, and my mind is kind of...freeform! I feel like one of those children who was raised by wolves and has come in from the forest. I don't know how to deal with myself!

I'm interested in what philosophies people have developed around dealing with standing out due to some externally deemed 'achievement' they never asked for, how they frame the reasons for their ability, and how they maintain a strong sense of self within this. This isn't about 'feel the fear and do it anyway,' or 'you deserve success.' Popular psychology has no answers to the questions I'm asking.

If anyone has any suggestions I will feel so heartened as this is something I've been spending my whole life trying to figure out. And please don't be mean - I'm actually incredibly underconfident.

Thanks in advance. : )
posted by inkypinky to Human Relations (19 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I think part of it is finding an environment that suits you. I've lived and worked in places where I felt like a weirdo every single day, and I've lived and worked in places where I felt accepted and well-respected. And it wasn't that I'd changed dramatically: it was the enviroment. If you're a free-form sort of person with a lot of creativity, and you're trying to stuff yourself into menial jobs (which in my experience are often ridiculously rigid and hiearchial, because the system is set up so anyone can do them), then the problem is probably partially just that it's a bad fit. So I would start with brainstorming, and trying to figure out what jobs sound like fun, or like an environment that you would truly like to work in, and start applying for (or working towards) those jobs. If you have absolutely no idea what sort of job would suit you, do a bit of research, google "career ideas," pick a direction and try to find a new job in that direction.

Also, socially, I would go looking for geek communities of some kind: people who are on the fringe of society already for their own reasons will probably be more tolerant of your own oddities. As an added benefit, folks who are sort of geeky are also often rather smart, and hanging around with people who can recall details from more than 20 years worth of Doctor Who programming will help teach you that you probably are quite smart, but there are also lots of different kinds of intelligence in the world, and you are probably not smarter than absolutely everyone else in the world. I think it's sort of easy to get caught up in this spiral of, "Oh my, I'm SO smart that no one is ever going to really understand me, and if I don't use my talents to their fullest, then I'm depriving the world, but if I do allow the world to see exactly how smart I am, then everyone is going to hate me for being so smart!" This is a false dichotomy though. Some people might hate you for being smart, or for being so free-form. Other people will dislike you for other dumb reasons completely unrelated to your intelligence. And my brilliant friend, the Doctor Who encyclopedia, would be mostly unimpressed with you--no matter how brilliant and new your solutions to some everyday problem were--because you couldn't do complex math problems in your head, have a casual conversation about particle physics, or count in binary on one hand up to some ridiculously high number. Point is, there are lots of kinds of intelligence in the world. Once you expose yourself to more of those different kinds, and find some more people who think sort of like you do, then you'll probably stop feeling quite so burdened by your uniqueness, which will free you up to actually devote some effort at cultivating your own strengths.
posted by colfax at 2:15 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you don't have a good education and you're working in low-paid and menial jobs, what exactly is it that you feel makes you stand out as unusually successful? That might sound like a mean question but I don't intend to be hurtful. I'm actually wondering if maybe you've misidentified the problem. If people keep telling you you're Too Successful, maybe it's because they don't really want to see you succeed, in whatever form that takes for you. If that's the case, the problem isn't you, it's them. You can solve the problem by changing your environment.

I spent a while working terrible, menial jobs, and my colleagues would scoff and laugh if I dared to admit that I was actually working to save up for university. "University? Ha! Why would you want to do that? What a waste of time. Think you're going to be some big shot, do you?" They didn't mean to be cruel. They just had no particular interest in seeing me 'succeed' outside the narrow set of working class options in which they themselves felt trapped (and often, they really were trapped, because of economic forces beyond their control). Partly, I think, they feared that if I 'succeeded' then they would have to admit that they had 'failed'.

The thing is, the world is a big place and different social circles have different definitions of 'success'. I'm sure I look like an abject failure to someone with an Ivy League education and a Manhattan loft, but to the teen moms and drug addicts I went to high school with, I'm pretty damn successful. There are probably hippies out there who think I've sold out to The Man, and corporate types who think I'm a hopeless idealist. Success is relative and comes in lots of different shapes.

Fortunately I have some say about the people I surround myself with. I've found that I feel happiest when my social circle includes people who are passionate about whatever they do and either as successful or slightly more successful than me. I try not to socialise exclusively with people from my own field to avoid getting swept up by the competitive nastiness that sometimes emerges among early-career colleagues. I cultivate friends who inspire me. I don't associate with anyone who relentlessly puts me down.

So, think about it. Who is it that's telling you you're too successful? Can you widen your social circle to include people who are either better than you at whatever you do, or too busy being successful at whatever they do to bother putting you down? If not, why not?
posted by embrangled at 2:41 AM on April 22, 2012 [21 favorites]

I get what your asking-- most of the advice out there is about scaling the mountain to reach your goals, not for those who are already there. That said, I think people find it infuriating sometimes when they see successful people, but it isn't that you are talented or smart-- it's that you didn't have to try to get what they try so hard to get.

It's important to distinguish that being talented doesn't automatically make people hate you. I think smart people can also be liked, if they recognize that they are lucky and are grateful for the opportunities they've been given as a result. It's when successful people feel that they deserve success and anything other than that would be out of the question, that irritates people.

So go forth and shine as brightly as you are-- and take comfort in the fact that there are a lot of able people in the world. People would not get mad at you for being competent-- really! And people around you are feeling threatened by your success, take embrangle's advice and surround yourself with more successful people.

If you don't have a good education and you're working in low-paid and menial jobs, what exactly is it that you feel makes you stand out as unusually successful?
I think she means that b/c she fears standing out, she's limited herself to low-paid and menial jobs.
posted by ichomp at 2:49 AM on April 22, 2012

Very nice comments so far - I agree with everyone that your current feelings are likely related to your environment more than anything. I'd like to add something pertaining to the following paraphrased parts of your post:

"... I'm working in terribly low paid and menial jobs.... I have to deal with this, and that's going to mean dealing with achievement.... I suppose it's relevant that my family is pretty unsupportive, I somehow ended up being different to them in terms of intelligence, I'm from a fairly working class background, ..."

This made me think immediately of a book I read a few years ago that made me recognize how this could be a problem - how we hold ourselves back (procrastinate) because we feel that important relationships in our lives might be threatened if we achieve whatever we hope to achieve. The book is called "Procrastination - Why you do it, what to do about it now"

I had never thought about it that way before, but it had driven a lot of my choices - ironically, driving me away from what I really wanted - not in the same way as you have described, but the pattern is similar. And the book really helped me with that. That was certainly not the only insight in there - it has a lot of other insights into other behaviors that might be helpful.
posted by Pieprz at 3:43 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with the previous posters seeking more information- it's context. What, specifically, are the skills/abilities/behaviors that the OP possesses which she feels she cannot act on for fear of "standing out?" And ultimately, in the context of her current environment, what are the risks faced by "being herself" and acting on these abilities?

If I was trapped in a cycle of menial jobs and non-congenial people, and knew that I had the tools to better myself, I would do all I could to use those tools and get out of there. If I was smart enough to know I had the brains and the skills, I think I would also know how to act on them. It seems incongrous to me that you'd have one and not the other. But perhaps it's possible.

That being said- Ultimately, it is where you are and who you are with. You have to get yourself in front of people who recognize what you bring to the table and are not intimidated or threatened by it, and who are in a position to help you advaqnce.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:50 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

There are definitely circles of people where being good at what you do in an unusual way gets you brownie points and respect, as well as there are circles of people where you can find yourself slapped down quickly before you mess up the status quo.

Places I've found positive and welcoming attitudes before:

Self employment and self employed people of all kinds.
University crowds.
Small and young companies.
Older people.
Groups of people formed for the purpose of learning about something.

Places I've found more hostile:

Some crowds of young teenagers
Some old well established companies where "we've always done it like that".
People from places with chronic unemployment or underemployment.
People in general who have been shat on by life for so long that they have given up.

I've personally found that hanging around with the positive and welcoming crowd does absolute wonders for my own self-esteem. It's opened my eyes to all kinds of possibilities. I wouldn't be where I was today without my own incredibly varied crowd of wise, irreverent, wacky friends and acquaintances.
posted by emilyw at 4:05 AM on April 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

It sounds to me a little like you need to own your success, and you that you're still a bit uncomfortable with it, and perhaps even unsure if "it" is real - forgive me, but you sound a little defensive in your question. No doubt shaped by some negative interactions.

However, there's no rule book that dictates how people react to success and neither is there one for how successful people act. I think, perhaps, I used to be somewhat like you, in that I just could not abide a serious compliment. If someone said something nice about my work, I couldn't brush it off fast enough. You could not pin a positive thing on me.

This was not productive for a few different reasons:

1) It made the people who complimented me feel shitty. It did this because they felt that I either didn't take their opinion and judgment seriously, or that what might be challenging for them was so trivially easy for me it wasn't worth comment. It would make an often sincere effort to connect into a negative emotional interaction for people. Their kindness, generosity, and admiration deserved better than that.

2) I would mutter this shameful denials because I didn't want to be successful. If I was successful, it would engender expectations of further success in the future - expectations, not just in other people but also in myself - that I already felt I would struggle to meet. Being average was safe, setting expectations low - within and without - was safe and it allowed for easy victories, and crucially it removed failure as a possible option.

3) I thought it would make other people feel bad. From a young age I'd had an almost pathological fear of "blowing your own trumpet" drilled into me. I despised braggarts, skiters and try-hards. Your work should speak for itself, I felt, like a good protestant work ethic person.

You may have noticed, that most of the reasons I shied away from compliments and the leadership they sometimes entailed were based on fear and anxiety. It has taken me many years - and much conscious effort, that I still must force upon myself at times - to accept these things:

I possess talent. I am good at some things. I am better than others at some things. A big part of the reason why is because I do work for it. It's not a fluke, that will ne'er be repeated. It's not a mistake or an act of fraud. It's a legitimate assessment that may change in the future, but so too will I change in the future. Accepting admiration and standing out can make other people feel happy, and if I approach it the right way, it can make me feel happy, too.

Second-most importantly, these feelings I have, are not so unique as all that. Indeed, they are not a result of any ability or achievements I might accomplish; successful people are not a different breed of person (a breed that I am not!), with different emotions, different reactions, different ways of thinking. I am a successful person just as the person complimenting me is, in their own terms, in their own times. And they have experienced all these feelings and more, as well. And they still complimented me, admired my work, etc etc etc.

And most importantly: With great power, comes great responsibility. Despite being a huge spider-man fan as a child, I never really appreciated the impact and meaning of that sentiment until long after my comic book days had passed. So, I'm good at something, so what? What am I going to do with it?

Yeah, I can keep my light under a bushel. Keep my head down, don't engage. That's what my gut screams at me to do some times. But how selfish. How small, and self-centred. I wasn't born with my few talents - they were cultivated, and groomed and brought to blossom by family, friends, teachers, society, the whole world in fact. Why should I have sole exclusive right to any of these skills I possess when so many have brought them to fruition? Do I owe them nothing?

And even if I do owe them nothing? Do I want to make this world a better place, with whatever meagre tools and small plots of land I have available? There are people that never received what I have been gifted with in terms of education, wealth, demographics, and, yes, intellect. Are they no more deserving of their own grooming and cultivation simply by virtue of bad luck? What a horribly unjust vision of the world that would be.

I think not. If I have been given any talent, then I genuinely - and you might think I'm getting a bit hyperbolic here but I am serious as cancer - believe it is my responsibility, my duty to exercise that talent, and share it, and try to ensure others benefit from it as I have, and ensure that I benefit from it too - if for no other reason than it will enable me to be better and make my small corner of the world better, too (also, simple happiness. It feels nice being competent).

So, finally, to answer your question. I say, if you achieve without trying, then goddamnit achieve more with trying. Embrace success for a change instead of that ole BFF, failure. If you fail, you fail. But screw your courage to the sticking place, and, well, you might fail anyway - but you screwed your courage to that damned sticking place and that's worth something right? If people look to you as a leader, think about why they're doing that. They might need a leader. They might be underconfident themselves; they might need you. If you're holding a glass of water and thirsty person asks for it, you'd give it to em, right? You don't have to ride into the valley of Death here; small gestures, and small leaders can make big changes.

I think you might need a leader, yourself, and I reckon the mirror is a great place to start looking for one. That's the conclusion I've reached, finally, myself, anyway. Best of luck, hope this helps.
posted by smoke at 4:13 AM on April 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

And please don't be mean - I'm actually incredibly underconfident.

I suspect this is the key to the whole thing. When you are a confident person, you experience success and praise in a very healthy way, one that is free of all of the internalisation of doubt and denial you've brought to this question. This does not make you an ego-maniac, nor does it change who you are, nor do you much care what other people think of you. You recognise these achievement are merited, and then you... move on. As a bonus, if you're both a nice person and a confident person, you make friends more easily because people like being with confident people.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:46 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I wish I knew how old you are. You sound a bit like me in my 20s. I had the combination of big chip on my shoulder coupled with insecurity coupled with absolutely no guidance on how the world worked.

So I spent a few years undermining myself. Then I spent some time devoted to just doing what I wanted to do, drifting from job to job, trying new things, being pretty poor. That was great. For a (fairly long) while. And then, as I got older, I discovered that, if I did the math, I was going to likely die in an alley with no money and no health care.

Being yourself means not holding yourself back. You owe it to yourself to take care of yourself. You also owe it to yourself to do what you do best.

And the whole thing about "people hating you for being yourself" goes away over time, because you won't be surrounded by people like that if you struggle to put yourself in communities that you want to be in, that feel good, that help you do what you should be doing. You won't "stand out" like a nail waiting to be hammered down if you aren't afraid but also particularly if you don't surround yourself with people with hammers.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 5:14 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh my goodness! Thank you people for the answers so far. There are some really good points. If you want to talk about success, talk to Americans! (I'm Australian. You guys are much more...success-positive.)

I like the idea of context. Of course if I were surrounded by people who were doing well themselves, or had already attained recognition in my fields of interest, things would look different. True!

emilyw, your ideas are really nice. Thank you. I really needed to hear about other workplaces!

smoke, "Accepting admiration and standing out can make other people feel happy..." That's nice too - and so true! We forget that.

There are a couple of comments from people who don't seem to know where I'm coming from. That's okay.

But I'm being remind of the wider view of things. The positives of leadership (eek!). And that old idea of doing what you are even if you're unaware of how it fits in to the grand plan. I suppose that's what I'm trying to get to.

I'm going to need to re-read all this later because there are so many new ideas for me. Thanks. I'd still like to hear more!
posted by inkypinky at 5:16 AM on April 22, 2012

Well, here's my Special Sauce formula for achieving success (whatever that means to you) and enjoying it:

1. Cultivate a wide circle of weird and wacky and successful and positive friends.
2. Be continually learning about anything and everything.
3. Be aware of opportunities that come your way, and take them. Noticing opportunities is the most useful life skill of all!

You probably won't get anywhere you expected to go using this formula; you may well end up on a path less travelled, but it will be worth it.
posted by emilyw at 5:23 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't seek and am not interested in 'success,' or status, or accolades, or having others look up to me.

In my experience this can happen without much application on my part,

This might be a minor point, but you're not expressing the above attitude to people who comment on your success, are you? Explicitly or even implicitly? Even here in America, with our success-positive attitude (heh:-) we don't take kindly to lucky people who don't know they're lucky. The thing is, there are people, very talented people, who work hard all their lives and don't get any of the rewards that seem to come so easily to you. That doesn't mean you're not very talented, not at all - just that you're also lucky. And people like certain narratives, I find, when it comes to talent and success. They like when people work hard and struggle to achieve something, and they like when people humbly acknowledge how fortunate they've been. It sounds like you've got the humble part down, but I don't know how much of that shows on the outside. If it appears to those around you that you just happened to try your hand at, say, painting and you suddenly got offered your own show at a fancy gallery, and all you did was complain that you didn't ask for all this attention...well, they're going to resent that. If it looks more like you've been painting all your life and you finally got up the courage to submit some work and you're so excited for the opportunity and grateful to have been picked even though so many other people are equally talented and you're nervous about the attention but you hope it goes well...that will elicit a different reaction.

There will always be some haters (even if you're not successful at all!) but you don't want to unintentionally give them fodder.

(On preview: oh, ichomp said almost the same thing. Yes, that.)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 6:20 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Learning to own, acknowledge and then effectively manage one's own personal 'power' is an element involved as well.
posted by infini at 6:23 AM on April 22, 2012

DestinationUnknown, "This might be a minor point, but you're not expressing the above attitude to people who comment on your success, are you?" Oh, I'm not arrogant. But what you say about how one projects is definitely something to be aware of.

Dealing with one's own personal power, yes. And growing into oneself. Lots to learn. : )
posted by inkypinky at 7:14 AM on April 22, 2012

I have a bit of a mix of your problem (as I understand it – if I am wrong, you may well want to skip this) with others. Throughout my life, I’ve been frequently treated as either the enviable effortless talent/success or dumber than dumb, the village clutz, and in neither of those situations did I entirely get why. Praise/envy or impatience/condescension seemed to pop up at random. This was then complicated when I moved to a foreign country in my 20s and was suddenly treated half the time as some sort of exoticism or as though I was invisible. Etc. with a number of things which seemed unrelated to who/what/how I felt myself to be or how I preferred to be regarded, and which I felt where little by little creating a sense of confusion when it came to my instincts about myself. At times, it felt like the most natural thing in the world – sitting in my skin and acting from there spontaneously, effortlessly, had become impossible.

Your issue is much more focused than mine, so I’m trying to narrow the scope of this to what will be relevant to you (without repeating too much of what has already been said above ). So, the problems I have, particularly with the “unmerited, easy success” scenario:

1. Being described (either in positive terms or in negative terms, doesn’t really matter) makes me highly self-conscious and interrupts my flow. By this I don’t just mean some sort of grand creative flow, rather my flow being me. It’s like suddenly I am standing beside my skin, as it were, sort of paralysed, like a rabbit in the headlights.

For me, self-consciousness is deadly. It happens when I feel that the flow of my interaction with others keeps getting obstructed by being weighed and judged (again, it doesn’t matter much if that judgement is positive, even glowing, or negative). Same if activities of mine are continuously in the spotlight. This mixes with easily feeling physically exposed and vulnerable – I cannot sit with my back to the door, for instance, and, in an office environment, if I have to sit facing a wall and with my back to the open space, most of my mental energy goes towards pacifying my low-grade anxiety.

2. Again, being set apart – as either the successful one, or the talented, the nice, the exotic, the quirky one (or, negatively, the invisible one, the one easily dismissed, the dumb one, the awkward one etc.) feels very lonely. Keeping my light under a bushel, as smoke says above, is not a solution – this, too, ends in paralysis, since I am never entirely sure what my “light” is, plus, in the long run, this is soul-sucking.

This is why I am happiest when I am unremarkable – not in the sense that I am average, or because I am withdrawing from the world. Rather, because we are all remarkable in one way or the other and we can all relish each other in our unremarkable remarkableness (there are few mundane habits of thought I hate more than the unqualified “you’re not so special”. I cannot for the life of me understand why that is not “We are all enchantingly special – take comfort and find peace in that”). Therefore, I think all the people recommending you seek to build a congenial environment around you are spot on.

3. Like you, I am very uncomfortable with hierarchical structures in certain situations. Personal relations are included here, as are relationships with colleagues. Actually, most relationships are included, with the exception of highly official ones, or those I think of as “natural hierarchies”, such as when someone excels in one respect or the other, and they are therefore my (and most other people’s) superiors in that one regard. Other than that, though, being made to feel superior or inferior is incredibly uncomfortable and kind of makes me jump out of my skin.

With regard to this:

I'm interested in what philosophies people have developed around dealing with standing out due to some externally deemed 'achievement' they never asked for, how they frame the reasons for their ability, and how they maintain a strong sense of self within this.

some random thoughts:

1. The one concept which I have found very useful is the concept of “flow” (I came across it in the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, here is a link to an article, he’s also got several books and a lot more publications). I mentioned above how this experience of flow, which to me is crucial (to my well-being, my productivity, to broadening my horizons, my relationships etc.) is negatively impacted by self-consciousness. Not only that, though; it also gave me the key to why I frequently felt like an impostor – basically, some of my most lauded successes, as it were, were the result of being in an acute state of flow. As a consequence, they felt entirely effortless, time seemed to fly, I felt more like a live-wire for something coming from outside, that is how exquisitely fine-tuned to what was going on I felt. However, reading about this notion of flow, I realized that my perception of what happened was actually at fault – I had really worked, and often bloody hard and over long periods of time, it’s just that it never FELT like work (to this day I have trouble seeing things I like to do as “work”, even though time, effort, all my skills, resources, all I’ve learned, all my imagination are going into it, it’s not work if I enjoy it). Left to my own devices, I can transform a lot of tasks into non-work after this fashion – but that changes if my “flow” gets interrupted. Plus, under these circumstances I feel entirely like an impostor when I am treated as a “success” – after all, I did nothing much, in my own estimation.

2. As said above, cultivate people in your immediate environment who you find exceptional, who are doing remarkable things, or have appeal to you as someone who has stature (in my circle, not everybody is necessarily successful according to immediately recognizable metrics. Some seem, in fact, entirely unremarkable until you get to know them better, but then their curiosity about life, their warmth, playfulness, wisdom, or, rather, combination of many, many things which are difficult to quantify or even name makes them entirely extraordinary).

3. Be mindful of not doing to people you admire the same thing you loath having done to you. It was actually quite helpful to realize how easy it is to be seduced into fetishizing others, for better or worse. Anyone who is more than a face on a screen or a character in a book, though, has a claim to be perceived and treated as a whole person, not a symbol or a feature. However, just as the onus is on you to de-fetishize your perceptions of others, so it is with those who fetishize your successful side – remember it is their issue to deal with. Good relationships are those where all involved manage to go beyond that caricaturesque super-emphasizing of one thing to the detriment of others.

4. What helps is trying to gain partial acceptance of the fact that I am, objectively, quite good at some things (and quite bad at others). Since I am a very bad judge of the quality of something done by my as it is being done or right after, I need hindsight for a more objective appraisal (and, of course, I need my own evaluation to at least complement that of others before I am satisfied that I am, indeed, good or bad at x – or middling, or in need of improvement, whatever). Once I co-opt my own judgement, and make it as impartial as I can, I find it easier to not put so much store by what others say/do. This does not mean that others should be dismissed, just that I need my own take on things to be able to calibrate my self-assessment properly.

5. Hindsight is good in other ways – once a situation has receded, it becomes much easier to correlate someone’s words or actions with a particular activity of mine, or a result thereof, rather than the totality of me. I’m not sure this is entirely making sense, but it feels much more reasonable to be someone who sometimes does x really well, than to be an amazing x.

6. Become comfortable with, at times, being a role model, or a leader. Best way, in my experience, is to work with children. By being the adult, you are inevitably going to be someone they look up to and look for guidance from - and you will be OK with it, because it makes sense, pragmatically (however, don’t do this just to broaden your comfort zone – do it only if you are so inclined anyway).

7. Compartmentalize. Don’t allocate a lot of prime quality headspace to extraneous problems. Create a “private” versus “public headspace”, and keep the former as a safe space – including for your relationships with people who treat themselves and you as peers.

Good luck. Sorry if I completely misunderstood where you’re coming from.
posted by miorita at 8:34 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

You might be interested in reading up on the Enneagram, my personal favorite personality system. (And it's way smarter than pop psychology, don't worry.) You sound like a Four to me!
posted by staboo at 8:48 AM on April 22, 2012

  1. Surround yourself with people who impress you. This can help keep you humble.
  2. Learn to accept an honest compliment. If your own efforts really played no role it's ok to note that fact -- "thanks but I just got lucky" -- but don't deny your own positive attributes. It's bad for your inner dialogue; you wind up inhibiting yourself, denying opportunities.
  3. Accept your positive attributes without feeling obliged to employ them in the manner most obvious. Your positive attributes are tools, and like many tools they can be put to use in a wide variety of ways. Use them in ways that are true to your moral compass and social comfort.
  4. Shut out the advice of people-without-that-attribute. Listen to two sources of advice:
    1. Those who have the same attribute you do and are actively doing the thing they're advising about. They can tell you what it'll actually be like. Everyone else is imagining.
    2. The quiet, persistent voice in your head telling you to follow up with some secondary and improbable avenue that caught your attention. It caught your attention for a reason. Figure out why. It might not be a good idea to do, but it is information about your nature.

posted by ead at 10:37 AM on April 22, 2012

Schadenfreude is not a universal human sentiment. People who don't want you to be successful are not people you ought to worry about, or have around. And, don't worry, there ARE other sorts of people. For one thing, such people will never stimulate your creativity, and creativity is obviously an important part of your life.

Life's a collaborative art project. You can be a clerk, that's fine, that can be how you choose to play. But why not use your most extraordinary side to contribute what's uniquely yours? Shake things up a little? I mean, when you've got something that sticks out, I'm not sure why you'd lack for direction. Go with that! The only thing blocking the inevitable is overthinking.

Finally, have a look at The Four Agreements, particularly #2:

Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

posted by Quisp Lover at 10:45 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

What do you do when you achieve without trying?

You wake up from your dreams, because no one achieves without trying.

The crux of your issue seems to be that you don't have goals, so that your talents get spent on things you're not interested in, and when it becomes challenging (personally, socially, etc.), you get agitated because, after all, you didn't want to do what you were doing to begin with, and those challenges/pushback came from doing something that you don't even like. People are willing and able to deal with challenges from others when it's in service to their goals. When it's not, it seems like a bunch of unasked for trouble in your life.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's different when you're directing your talents towards something you want to do.

I don't want to end up a bitter old eccentric woman living in a trailer park!

That sounds like a goal. If you can achieve what it takes to avoid this fate without trying, then that sounds like something worth doing, right?

It sounds like you're highly, highly affected by other people's perceptions, and that your identity is tied up with what they think (or don't think) about you. Now, normally, one would say, "you have to learn not to base your entire identity on other people's perceptions." In this case, though, it might help if you merely "own" this aspect of yourself and solve the problem by surrounding yourself by people who are more like you and whose perceptions of you will allow you to feel more like yourself. I don't think that's the best solution, but it's probably the best one that can realistically be achieved under the circumstances right now.
posted by deanc at 5:20 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

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