Is This the Human Condition?

Over the last few years I’m increasingly picking up on a vibe in the cultural gestalt in which people very consistently talk about feelings of isolation and inadequacy. The theme seems to be, “I’m different,” or “I’m misunderstood,” or “I’m suffering from things beyond my control.” I feel like other people won’t share my interests, or that sometimes I have weird ideas that no one else has - or would even understand. When I was growing up, I always felt like everyone else in the world got a copy of life’s instruction manual and I didn’t, because they seemed to just ‘know’ how things worked, or how to be successful, or how to get along with people, and I didn’t.

But I’m increasingly becoming aware that these seem to be common sentiments. Some of them even have names, such as ‘Impostor Syndrome.’ I was watching a movie the other day that discussed some of these themes, and it occurred to me that these ideas wouldn’t be the basis for movies unless they were very common and relatable problems that people have. I’m also increasingly aware that things that were ‘nerdy’ or ‘stupid’ when I was a child are actually multimillion (or -billion) dollar industries that are very mainstream.

So what gives? Somehow I doubt society and pop culture radically re-oriented itself. It seems more likely that these are common ideas that most people have. I mean, I always thought most people on Earth were happy and accepted, and everyone understood them, and they never had any disagreeable private thoughts, and they only had very practical and mainstream interests and hobbies and careers, and they certainly never experienced any moments of frustration or loneliness or self-doubt.

Is this seriously what it’s like for everyone? This feeling of anomie and isolation and uncertainty? Is this how * everyone else* feels?

You seemed to have gone from thinking nobody felt the way you did when growing up, to now wondering if everybody feels the way you do. This is also a “thing”.

I don’t think the “I am a weirdo” experience is universal. There are plenty of people who are confortable in their conformity and there are probably just as many people who are “weird” but either oblivious to it or not bothered by it. But I do think it is a very common thing.

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Supposedly this has gotten worse in the age of social media because everyone presents a carefully sculpted image to the world that is intended to avoid ridicule and judgment. So now people feel the image others see is fake while feeling inadequate for not living up to their own public image while also not living up to other people’s public image. The meat of people’s relationships is one upmanship and fear of being seen as defective rather than genuine connection.

Plus I think people’s standards for a good life keep going up. Marriages are supposed to meet all your emotional needs. Jobs are supposed to pay well, not be stressful, offer good benefits, security and enjoyment. Physical flaws we once accepted as normal are not pathological and in need of treatment.

We are also obsessed with tests. During my college freshmen orientation, we were given some weird multimetric personality test. The results came with a vague narrative about the professions you might be suited for. My scores were all really low. A couple were even negative. I don’t even think I was given a recommendation for a particular profession. I snooped at other classmates’ scores and they looked nothing like mine. I came away thinking that I was defective. Once you have a thought like that bouncing around in your head, it is hard getting it out.

We tell kids not to compare themselves to other people, but then we subject them to standardized tests.

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