“Sit down, be humble,” Kendrick says in the speaker behind me. I order an Old Fashioned beside a bleached blonde witch who sells tarot cards to superstitious hipsters. Twenty minutes into our convo, she tells me that Beyoncé’s second cousin is following her on Twitter and I should design her a t-shirt because our brands align. Suddenly, her phone buzzes and our conversation is interrupted by an email from her unpaid intern who appears to be standing directly behind her. Before Kendrick fades away in the last verse, I swiftly exit the conversation to find a friend I never lost. “Hol’ up, bitch. Sit down,” Kendrick repeats as I walk away from the witch a little too quickly.
Reunited with Jenny beside a girl with a bad bowl haircut, and surrounded by well-groomed men with unhealthy spending habits, I wonder if Kendrick is onto something. We’re all so busy self-promoting that we’ve forgotten the most important virtue of all: modesty. After all, it’s hard to go from 100 to zero when we’re all competing for the spotlight.
My train of thought is disrupted when a man wearing sunglasses inside tells me he sells raw organic soap to dirty hipsters. I nod approvingly and hand him my business card as a sign of good gesture. “We should work together,” I say without thinking. “For sure,” he replies.
Seconds pass and before I know it, I’m talking about myself again. I’m repeating the same line I use every night. The one where I say what I do, what I want to do and what my passion is and why it matters. Every so often, I listen to myself talk and cringe inside. But I can’t stop and I won’t stop because I’m networking and this is what people like me are supposed to be doing at this moment. I shake hands with a firm grip, make direct eye contact, and when the moment comes to talk about myself, I feel a sensation that validates what I am and the person I want to be. I drink the rest of my Old Fashioned and pretend to be modest only when it counts. I’m not humble because I was never humble to begin with. It’s like I don’t know how to be.
You see, there’s a long list of virtues that take priority in a scene like tonight: the ones that speed up the pursuit to make friends, sleep with friends, meet more friends and make money to feel a sense of self-accomplishment. The result is an intense focus on vanity mixed with hard drugs and alcohol. Virtues like these help us shape our surface-level personalities in dark bars with good looking people, where we can all brag about self-worth, promote side projects and name drop people, places and things to appear connected to something much bigger than ourselves. Throw in a handful of naval-gazing creative types and you have a group of up-and-coming human beings who love to swag.
All of this leads me to believe that humbleness is going extinct because it’s the reverse of what we know: pride and showing off. Under the public eye of being seen and self-advertising, we’ve forgotten how to respectively talk with one another without comparing or blabbering about the things that make us magical unicorns in a trailer park of ordinary horses.
Consequently, we’re all miserably failing to connect with others on a genuine level because we’re too busy trying to prove ourselves, earn social capital and look fuckable to prospective friends, bosses and colleagues.
A woman wearing a turtleneck crop top asks me, “So what do you do?” Before answering, I stare into the party and assess in a crowd of young urban creative types. There’s an advertising executive, a bar owner, a girl who invented a dating service for rich Jewish people and a guy wearing too many rings. I see the witch talking to a hot girl who does hot things on Instagram. Jenny is flirting with a barber with a fade that’s quickly growing out and there’s a friend-of-friend standing next to them who may or may not be a drug dealer. I tell her I sell plants and illustrate and for a brief moment we take turns talking about ourselves while pretending to listen. “We should collaborate,” the girl says before walking away. I nod my head approvingly and hand her a business card she never asked for.
Before the night is turned up, I spot the humblest person in the room: the witch’s unpaid intern looking sadly inspired. Nervously texting in the shadow of the witch, this desperate young woman is the obvious answer to a problem none of us are aware of yet. She’s invisible – an unpaid servant of another human being. Working hard for nothing and blending in to be polite. I wonder what’s going through her head right now: carefully examining her boss in a social setting on a Friday night. Deep down, she must see us for what we really are: entirely removed from the job titles and the reputations we love to hear about. Meanwhile, the rest of us are high, belligerent and too busy fidget spinning to stay interested in anything beyond our next drink order.
Before I commit to a new life of modesty, I order a Gin and Tonic and hand my business card to a man with a tattoo of a burning eagle on his arm. “We should work together,” I say on command. “Absolutely,” he replies. I smile back and talk about myself some more as Kendrick returns to the speaker for another round of HUMBLE. Forgetting what I was doing or what I was talking about, I end the night feeling proud, self-satisfied and terrifyingly cocky. The intern disappears into the thick air of the dance floor and I never see her or the witch again.