Some members of the community and I have been discussing narcissism and its role in the workplace. It’s a fascinating topic because having to deal with a boss who is either narcissistic or sociopathic can present major hurdles to your own agenda, or worse, present temptations to behave in ways that compromise your own morality in order to stay sheltered from the rage that would otherwise befall you.
My score is either a 15 or 16 depending on the last question, which I struggle with answering. I also had some other people around me fill it out about their perceptions of me, to act as an additional check on the calibration. In both cases, the results were nearly identical.
The average score for Americans was 15.3, so at either 15 or 16 depending on the not-answered question, I am perfectly ordinary for my time and culture, which is expected as per the law of averages.* Upon discovering this banausic diagnosis, my reaction:
I shouldn’t be surprised given that I’ve long discussed three of my most hated personality traits on the site – envy, entitlement, and exploitation – which are three of the seven signs of narcissism. (One of the signs – magical thinking – involves perceiving yourself as perfect. That is anathema around these parts. You should be the first person to try and find flaws in your thinking, behavior, actions, and systems. Discovering areas that can be improved should cause joy, not rage! That is how you get better over the years.)
I’m not much use on how to navigate these treacherous waters. If my financial livelihood depended on working for someone who was a narcissist, I’d find a way to jump ship at the earliest possible time. I might, if other people could be saved, consider a carefully orchestrated coup but I’d have to be in charge of, say, a team of people at a software company who were all good, honest folks that were seeing their most important projects jeopardized by some tyrannical overlord.
What’s the question I struggled with answering? The last one.
A. I am much like everybody else
B. I am an extraordinary person
The problem is that A is true. However, if I think about B, “extraordinary” means, literally, “out of the ordinary”. My experience and results are out of the ordinary based on impartial, factual data. The median person my age has a net worth of $9,200, which is staggeringly low to me. The median person my age does not have a college degree. The list goes on and on; by all metrics, I’ve knocked it out of the park.
However, it’s not because I am somehow intrinsically better than anyone else. I just behaved in a way that maximized my probability of success after studying men and women who had also enjoyed success, adapting their methods for my own. So my results are extraordinary but I am not so sure that I am extraordinary because the methods should work for anyone who employs them, even if we all have different skill areas that we can leverage to achieve the ends.
Compounding doesn’t know if you are old or young, black or white, gay or straight, male or female, rich or poor, conservative of liberal. A single $10 bill invested at 10% for 10 years turns into $25.94. It’s a basic scientific truth, much like the theory of gravity works the same on all people. Gravity doesn’t wake up and say, “I don’t think I’m going to hold Asian women over the age of 65 to the Earth anymore. You can float away now.” It’s a universal force.
I’m able to “get” things much, much faster than almost all other people my age. This has always been true since childhood. However, they might still outperform me in certain areas because they have more knowledge of the topic. So how do you define “extraordinary”? I am below average in some areas and average in others, but there are certain spots in which I am the elite. If I wanted to become a doctor, I’m sure I could become one of the best doctors in the world. However, at present, a first year medical student would know vastly more than I do about anatomy. Knowledge, and experience, trumps ability in most all cases. In contrast, no matter how hard I tried, or how much I practiced, I would never be able to make tens of millions of dollars a year in the NBA because I am only 6′ tall. That puts me at a significant disadvantage.
The story repeats elsewhere. As a writer, I’ve made more doing it as a hobby than most authors earn after a lifetime of work. Yes, there is a natural talent component, but it was developed over many years, and millions of written words.
Which one do I check? This is not a simple question.
If I answer “A”, my narcissism score is 15. If I answer “B”, my narcissism score is 16.
If I were in university and taking this exam, I would scratch out both answers and write, “The methods I have utilized in my life are extraordinary and lead to superior results under present conditions but they are by no means unique to me. In fact, I didn’t even develop most of them. I simply ‘stood on the shoulders of giants’ and synthesized their insights in a way that could be applied to daily living.” And I’d accept the lower grade if the professor insisted I hadn’t answered the question because it is the honest answer.
My question, if any of you are psychologists: Can a narcissist ever be cured? If not, what does society do with these people? I can see a major advantage in certain fields, like entertainment (a movie star is absolutely a dream job for a narcissist). I have no idea. I’m going to put this on the “too be studied in the future” list.
Footnotes: * My inner British humor causes me to want to dead pan, “That’s unfortunate. I rather thought I would have scored much higher than other people given my impeccable personality.” But until they invent a sardonicism font so people can recognize a joke, it would just get me in trouble as the site’s audience continues to grow. There would be angry emails and off-site discussion about it. Sometimes I miss our tiny community. I need to decide, if any, the degree to which I am going to censor myself as the page views continue to expand.