Once upon a time, now about thirteen years ago, I joined an Italian-owned medical device company as their afternoon receptionist. I spent my mornings as a graphic designer and my afternoons answering the switchboard. My predecessor, who’d recently been promoted, was responsible for training me on how to properly direct each incoming call.
I felt very intimidated by her. She oozed superiority. Behaved condescendingly. Her shoulders were heavy with responsibility and importance. She exuded the very essence of “professional,” knew all the right words, the hip office clichès. Her career star was on the ascendant. Frankly, she intimidated the crap outta low self-esteem, homespun, aw-shucks-it-weren’t-nothin’ little ol’ me. I felt very inferior to her.
Then she was promoted again to a different department and I quit my graphic design job to take over her old job. Overnight, I became the Assistant to the CEO’s Executive Assistant and also the Interim Executive Assistant to the Vice President with full access to his email and voicemail.
When my predecessor dropped off the files for the job I’d inherited from her, I got the shock of my life. It had all been a smokescreen! She wasn’t professional! She was wildy incompetent.
A two-foot high stack of folders landed on my desk. Nothing else! No spreadsheets. No digital files. Just two feet of multi-colored, barely labeled file folders. Most contained paperwork from two or even three different subjects mingled together plus junk mail. Many were empty. It was a complete and utter dog’s breakfast (no offense to dogs!).
After a week of sorting, filing, recycling and spreadsheet-creation, a job that had taken her eight hours (of shuffling through folders mostly) each day, took me barely four. I was soon begging other departments for more work just to keep the ol’ brain going. Order had been wrested from chaos. The company was no longer being cheated into paying for no work and along the way, I’d learned a great lesson: don’t be naïvely impressed by anybody, especially imposters like her!
Narcissism and Naiveté
“Naïveté.” It’s a word I’ve used over and over in this blog. While narcissists are savvy and worldly, finger on the pulse, workin’ the system, people like you and me somehow remain unspoiled, unworldly and, oh dear me, so naïve! Our ethics keep us honest, something we expect from others. It’s that expectation that keeps us naïve. We just can’t imaging that others could behave so unethically.
Too late, we wised up to the narcissists’ games. Too late, we learned to be savvy in relationships, to watch out for users. If narcissists are ultra game-players, how did we miss that? You’d think we’d be ultra-savvy, but I find myself naïve and unworldly to an embarrassing degree, still working on developing my “NarcDar.”
Thinking back over thirty years, I see now I was willfully blind to so many narcissists and the little clues that betrayed their narcissism. Little things, silly things. Here’s one.
During the “horse phase” that every little girl goes through, we had this silly idea for each person in my family to sketch a horse. Afterwards we compared our drawings.
Mine was, of course, very childish. My narcissist’s sketch of a horse looked like a barrel on four sticks. Rough, very rough. However, his wife’s sketch of a horse had flowing lines, good dimensions and was quite beautiful. You should’ve seen the look on his face! Oh, he was pissed.
My goodness! Laugh it off! Compliment your wife on a job well done. But no. I distinctly remember the silent look of displeasure because he hadn’t won at something as simple as sketching a horse. I was willfully (and childishly) blind to the narcissism back then; not now!
Now it’s your turn! Think back to the ponderously important person in your family or office. The person heavy with responsibility. Were they as authentically successful and important as all that? Or were they an imposter?
What about the person who couldn’t stand to lose anything, from a game of cards to a round of lawn croquet. Someone who had to have the loudest burp, eat the hottest pepper and tell the wildest stories.
Was it mere competitiveness or a streak of narcissism a mile wide?