chapter one - you're not that great
We’re not born laughing. We’re born screaming.
— Brannon Braga (producer, director, screenwriter)
Let me tell you the story of you.
A long, long time ago, a man and a woman looked at each other and said, “Well, that’s good enough.” They fell in love, or at least they liked each other enough to want to get naked in the same room. Either the first night they met, or maybe a few months later, the man put his penis into the woman’s vagina and gave her three relatively unpleasant minutes of grunting and sweating and thrusting before rolling onto his back and feeling pretty good about himself, while the woman regretted ever giving him her phone number. As the woman lay there, wondering why this man couldn’t even bring her halfway to orgasm, a tiny little sperm somehow lazily stumbled towards an egg and weaseled its way in.
Those two people are your mother and father. That is how you were created. You are likely the result of two people being “whatever” about each other and deciding not to put latex between their genitals.
The following nine months you lived inside your mother, stealing most of her nutrients and generally making her feel sick and woozy. She had to quit drinking and smoking and missed out on a lot of the things she wanted to do because you were growing inside of her, kicking intermittently for no fucking reason. You just swam around in there, contributing nothing, and sucking vitamins through a tube like some kind of vampire. Literally, you began your life as a leech.
Finally, one glorious day, once you’d drained your mother of her last ounce of joy and energy, you decided to go ahead and make your grand entrance into the world. What followed was ten or so gruesome hours of screaming and general genital discomfort. No matter how great you think you are, it’s important that you remember that your first act in this beautiful world was to cause the highest possible amount of pain to the person who loved you the most. Nice work.
The immediate future wasn’t much better, to be honest. You spent the next three years as a waste-manufacturing facility. When you weren’t making unpleasant sounds, you were making unpleasant smells, shitting and pissing and vomiting everywhere. You made abundantly sure that your parents never slept. You made them feed you every few hours, which for your mother often demanded public nudity. Any gift you were given, you would put in your mouth and then immediately throw onto the floor. Basically, you made sure to make every single moment of your parents’ lives difficult while offering little reward other than the promise that maybe, one day, you’d turn into a worthwhile person. This is how you treated the people who spent every waking hour just trying to keep you alive.
To strangers, you were no better. You ruined dinner for countless families in countless restaurants and your mere presence made the already dreary business of air travel even more unbearable. Your incessant wailing, your tantrums, your screaming bloody murder, went on for years.
But not to worry, you would soon escape infancy and become a child and surely you would finally become something worthwhile, right? You would become self- sufficient and selfless in no time, right? Well, not quite. Instead you just became a bottomless money pit. School supplies, new clothes, and birthday parties drained your parents’ bank accounts. Playdates, sleepovers, and thankless PTA meetings wasted countless hours of their lives. On top of that, you began to develop emotionally and required constant coddling. You demanded to be told that you were a “good boy” or a “good girl” when in fact you were pretty terrible. But instead of sitting you down on your little ass and telling you that you were slowly killing them, your parents encouraged this selfishness.
The very first bit of respite your parents got from the twenty-four-hour nightmare that was raising you came when you were old enough to begin your education. You were finally sent to school (which gave your parents a chance to just feel alive again and maybe fuck without you in earshot) and while there you would make drawings. And these “drawings”—if you can even call them that—weren’t just bad; they were total garbage. You were asked to draw a house and your parents, and what you ended up with looked like two malformed hot dogs in front of a big brown cube. And you probably drew a ridiculous sun in the corner like some kind of idiot who has no sense of scale and no idea that if the sun were really that close it would burn all of our skin off.
This is where things went from bad to worse.
When you came home from school with that disgusting drawing in your hand, your parents should have lit the page on fire and duct-taped your fingers together to make sure that you never got it in your mind to pick up a crayon again. But something told them not to do that. Something deep down inside told your parents not to be truthful with you. So instead of looking you square in the eyes and telling you to keep trying until it wasn’t such a piece of shit, they smiled at you and taped your monstrous masterpiece to the refrigerator door. They told you that they were proud of you and called you their “little artist.” And you felt so good about yourself.
And on that day, they turned you into the self-loving, egomaniacal monster that you are today!
The day your horrendous ego was born, it began whispering sweet nothings to you from inside your head. It’s the little voice inside that tells you that you deserve to have a good life. It’s the voice inside that tells you that you are special. It’s the voice that tells you that you are strong and powerful and can have anything you want. It tells you that you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you.
From the day you brought your garbage artwork home from school to yesterday when your friends lied to you and told you that you look good in those pants, that voice has been growing and growing, larger and larger, and now it is the only voice you hear and the only voice you trust. You somehow believe that you are destined for big things. You believe that you’re special. You believe that you’re important.
And that’s how we got to where we are today.
That is your story. That is the story of you. At least until now. Because now your story is about to change.
You were a helpless screeching pile of flesh with feces coming out of your bottom at an alarming rate, and other than the fact that you’re a little bit taller, maybe have a college degree, and “love yourself,” not much has changed. So it’s time to quiet the lying voice that lives in your brain and face the reality:
You’re Not That Great.
who are you?
If you’re reading this book, chances are pretty good that you’re doing okay. I mean, let’s be honest, books aren’t cheap, so you probably have a job. In order to get to that job, you probably have a car. It’s probably not the car you always wanted, but it probably has seats and doors, so that’s pretty good. Oh, and if you’re reading this book, it means you know how to read. So that means you were lucky enough in life to get an education. That probably had very little to do with you, honestly. That’s just luck. In fact, most of the above is luck. You were born in a time when “having a job” didn’t mean getting whipped half to death by an Egyptian man while you built a cute resting place for his uncle’s body. You have time to complain about the temperature of your latte instead of dying of starvation like half of your ancestors. You have the energy to complain about how shitty the Wi‑Fi is on airplanes, while the people who lived here before you died of dysentery just trying to deliver a love letter to someone two states over. You are living your best life. The world is your oyster and you absolutely expect every oyster you open to be home to a pearl.
THAT’S TRUE, AND THAT ALL SOUNDS PRETTY GREAT! SO WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME, THEN?
Look, I don’t know you personally, but there’s probably a whole hell of a lot wrong with you. I mean, so many things that we don’t have time to list all your issues. You probably have daddy issues. You probably fear abandonment. You are probably jealous and envious and you’re probably too prideful to admit any of this. You’re probably not as successful or as productive as you want to be. You’re probably reading this book right now thinking, “Why the fuck am I reading this book if it’s just going to keep insulting me?” but you also know that deep down you have all of these issues. Because WE ALL have these issues.
So if we all have these issues, they’re not so bad, right? Well, I guess it depends on what you want. If you’re happy with having what everyone else has, then, yes, it’s fine. Just go ahead and admit that your spirit animal is the ostrich and stick your head in the sand and pretend you’re doing okay. But if you already had everything you wanted, you wouldn’t be here with me right now. No, you’d be pleasuring yourself in a warm bath and eating chocolate cake without an ounce of guilt. So let’s get started, shall we?
who am i?
I’m just like you. I am insecure. I have abandonment issues. I have daddy issues. I have body dysmorphia and anxiety and I’m a germaphobe and sometimes I use run‑on sentences. I am a giant mass of nerves and tissue and problems. Just like you. But unlike some people, I know that my problems are the best and most important parts of me. They’re what make me me. I am my problems. And you are yours . . .
I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. You KNOW you have all these issues, and most likely at this point in your life you’ve had a few nights where a couple of cheap glasses of Chardonnay led to you calling up a friend at three o’clock in the morning, crying and screaming, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” You’ve slept with someone you didn’t really like just to feel alive. And you’ve definitely ordered enough Chinese food for six people and pretended it wasn’t just for you, and yelled, “I’ll be right there,” into an empty living room just to hide your deep, deep shame.
But here’s what you don’t know. And this is the thing that will kill you (even faster than the sodium content of that pork lo mein):
You’re an addict.
And your drug of choice is POSITIVITY. You listen to the voice in your head because you like what it has to say. You want to be HAPPY. You want to believe that you are SPECIAL and IMPORTANT. You NEED it. You CRAVE it. You are hopelessly and totally committed to FEELING GOOD when really you should be focused on BEING BETTER.
But alas, there’s your old friend: positivity. You’ve been told that positivity is the thing that’s going to fix all your problems. You’ve been told (since the day your parents hung your trash-drawing on the refrigerator) that positivity is the thing that you can’t live without. You’ve been told that positivity is the new penicillin.
But positivity isn’t the cure. It’s the disease.