A Self-Esteem Breakdown Using Simple Math and History

I am turning 25 in two days. Cool. No drama or fanfare. I’m not as depressed as I thought I would be; I’m not even depressed at all. This is a positive year and I’m keeping it that way. At the dawn of a new period in my life, I am trying to develop a realistic, positive frame of mind on a regular basis. I need to grow up, and much of the problem lies in my self-esteem. A large part of me has an extremely irrational inferiority complex, yet another part has a massive ego. Some small part of me sees things realistically and positively. It goes like this:

  • 48% Inferiority Complex
  • 34% Superiority Complex
  • 18% Realistic View of Myself


But let’s rewind a bit.


Ages 1-8

When I was a child, I was very intelligent and gifted in many ways. I was extremely critical of others and made it known to them I was the best. However, I had to deal with issues at home that skipped the point of humbling me, but rather sometimes made me feel like an idiot. It was hard to find a normal middle ground. So here is me then:

  • 21% Inferiority
  • 77% Superiority
  •   2% Reality


Ages 9-13

By the time I had been in school a few years, religion, K-8 Christian school, and social struggles finally started having a humbling effect on my personality. I tried to be a good person, I did my best to positively deal with negative family situations, and I enjoyed life. I won the school spelling bee a million times. I played so many sports and was good or decent in all of them. I kept myself busy and finally started making good friends. I had fun becoming a very slightly rebellious teenager and thinking I was so cool. In spite of my optimistic outlook, I did have a slowly building feeling that I was losing the advantage against others that I had as a younger child:

  • 30% Inferiority
  •   8% Superiority
  • 62% Reality


Ages 14-18

This lasted until high school. The public school real world was not exactly welcoming to a shy, insecure Curtis who had only ever operated in a bubble at tiny Christian Elementary School, and I never really adjusted. I had trouble focusing; I felt way behind others all of a sudden. I didn’t do that many extracurriculars, my grades weren’t as good as they could have been, I developed an abnormal social anxiety, and I had no luck with the ladies:

  • 82% Inferiority
  •   2% Superiority
  • 16% Reality


Ages 19-22

Hello, college, I’m not expecting much. Yet freshman year, a year I consider one of the best of my life, I met a group of awesome, ridiculous, hilarious friends (that I still hang out with to this day). I quickly was brought of my social shell. I found it easy to be myself because of the proximity to other people with open doors and because everyone was so eager to meet new people and enjoy themselves. I was somehow able to talk to and attract girls. People liked my quirky side, and I found a social contentedness I hadn’t felt in a long time; being awkward started becoming cool(er). I got pretty much straight A’s, but in my mind, that meant nothing. I told myself my classes were not that hard, or my school wasn’t prestigious, or I was lucky, or I was just a good test taker. So although I felt much better about myself socially, I didn’t expect to amount to that much because I was still behind where I should have been:

  • 42% Inferiority
  • 13% Superiority
  • 45% Reality


Age 23

I finally reach the point I have been dreading much of my life: the entrance point to the “real world.” I retreated, refusing to enter quite yet. I occupied myself with: things I don’t want to be doing, depression and malaise, boredom, spending money, graduate school, traveling, moving far from home, and a growing sense that something was amiss. I was able to quell the inferiority while in college because I was in the same boat as everyone else, but now many others were in a better spot in life. I developed a greater skepticism / cynicism of the world I found myself in. I knew I was just as capable as others at finding a job and a life path, but I felt there was a window that was getting smaller and smaller. I started losing much of my optimism, and I stopped really believing I was as fit for the world as others. Maybe they truly did have something I lacked:

  • 71% Inferiority
  • 20% Superiority
  •   9% Reality


Age 24

The world sucks. I hate where I find myself. I was meant for so much, and now look where I am. I don’t want to be doing any of the things I am doing. Maybe I can do something different. Something unique. Time is running out. I know I’m young, but I have wasted too many years drifting. A fire begins burning inside of my mind. Part of me is still depressed and cynical, yet part of me is developing a new personality, is optimistically preparing for something big in a pessimistic way, is hoping for a sign to figure out my calling in life. I find comfort in existentialism, spontaneity, and the pursuit of love. I make a ridiculous amount of changes and start doing some serious introspection. I pose deeper philosophical questions. I move far away from my new faraway home, closer to my old home. I start to believe I’m smarter and better than many others who might be at a better point in life right now in career terms. I’ve slowly accepted the fact that I am taking a different road, and part of me believes I am destined for something beyond the typical middle-class American life, or the typical college graduate life, or the typical finance graduate student life, or any typical life. But most of me lacks drive and hope. It’s getting too late in life to not have a clue:

  • 61% Inferiority
  • 27% Superiority
  • 12% Reality


Age 25 / Right Now

Now we’re back to the present. I’m more hopeful and much less negative, and the fire is growing because of this. As a reminder, here is my current assessment:

  • 48% Inferiority
  • 34% Superiority
  • 18% Reality

If you put things into perspective, I have made positive strides over the last year or two. I have a greater sense of who I am, and my overriding feeling of inferiority has decreased. Nonetheless, I still don’t even come close to having enough belief in my own abilities; I’m so hard on myself to be better that I forget to lay off when I do succeed – I avoid reality. I get mentioned in class for doing exceptional work. ‘So what, this class is not that hard, and I’m not at Harvard.’ Cute girls tell me I’m funny and handsome. ‘They apparently have bad taste.’ People tell me they like how I write. ‘They must not read good writing much.’ My friends are interested in hearing me talk. ‘They clearly think I am someone else. They have no clue how to judge character. What I say is unimportant.’ Only part of my mind thinks this stuff, but that part frequently overwhelms more realistic thoughts.

It’s okay to be hard on myself for the sake of motivation to achieve greater things, but I should not assume others are that hard on me. I need to draw a line between having a positive, realistic view of myself and having a tough, self-disciplinarian side that is never satisfied. I can push myself to be better while being positive.

A re-calibration has slowly been in effect, but there is much more to be done. I don’t know if the side of me who thinks I am better than everyone will ever go away, but as long as I remain humble on the outside and keep my pride in my head, I think it’s a good thing. After all, a little overconfidence is better than massive underconfidence. I am smart. I am intuitive. I am good looking. I am funny and clever. I am great at athletics and competition. I have a lot of positive things going for me that I absurdly take for granted. I shouldn’t have to write all this down just to prove it to myself. Here is the mix I would like to work toward in the near future:

  •   0% Inferiority
  • 30% Superiority
  • 70% Reality


I am actually starting to believe I have a calling. I am driving on a different highway than I expected, and I’m finally ready to face the challenges this road brings. Maybe the years of “wasting away” were added motivation to achieve something immense. I can only be held back by my mind for so long before I revolt; there’s a mutiny aboard the HMS Curtis and the authority figure being overthrown is Lieutenant Inferiority.


Think Before You Write?

Over the last few months, I’ve given you a glimpse of my perceptions in an organized fashion. What you haven’t seen is the way my mind actually operates. The following is a potpourri of my thoughts, unfiltered and unfettered:

**I’m sorry if you can’t follow this, but this is how I think, like it or not. After all, I’m writing this for myself. And this is the essence of me.

Is not the pursuit the point at which we find the most joy? What is there to gain when you no longer lack what you desire? One can see things more clearly with a sense of privation than with a sense of superfluity. Does this mean I want to be rejected? Not necessarily. If I “win over” a girl, I only want it to be partial; I want to still feel the need for pursuing.

My spare time: Sudoku, 4-suit Spider Solitaire, French lessons (Je ne suis pas encore couramment), Kierkegaard, Faster than Light, and the entire Portfolio Management “group” project myself.

I won two tickets to see Born Ruffians, a band I highly enjoy – I keep winning legitimate things on this Chicago website that apparently no one else uses. You literally just click the “Enter to Win” button. Easy.

I got a gift from Sis in the mail. I remember how weird it felt to stop calling her “Sissy” and start calling her “Sharon.” It felt like I was dishonoring a sacred custom of siblinghood.

After driving an hour and sitting another two hours in the waiting room (for the second time) only to talk to a rude, heartless, disrespectful psychiatrist for five minutes just to get my prescription refilled, I spoke my mind to the receptionist. That’s inconsiderate. I’m done with this office. My insurance makes it quite difficult to just see a freaking doctor or therapist and requires monthly refill visits, but I’ll manage without that idiot.

Why am I such a bad listener? Partly because I could care less about much of what others have to say. Partly because, with so many past and current extroverted friends, I never really had to learn. They do a lot of the talking. They ask me questions. They listen to me and care about what I say. Over time, I learn things about them without actually asking the questions. Am I friends with them only insofar as they like listening to me while I don’t have to do much work in return? I don’t think that is the case. I just don’t know how to get to know people very well.

I realized I turned my first date with the girl (in the next paragraph) into a psychiatry session because I’ve gotten used to talking about myself in that way to capture a lot of key personal things in a timed period. It went away after the first hour or so, but I’ve got to take a deep breath and not worry about sharing all of myself at once.

Two weeks ago, I skeptically created an OkCupid account to start something new. Within days, I had already gone on two dates with an awesome girl (who messaged me first). She was a female version of Curtis – I instantly felt a connection with her. We had good talks and lengthy dates that spanned multiple locations and carried over to fun texts and phone (or Skype) calls. We did have two hurried goodbyes due to some interesting logistical timing (bus-related situations that didn’t allow for any intimacy), but it was pretty obvious she wanted more than the hug or the wave I gave her. Yes, I was also trying to take things slowly, but I’m not going to lie by acting like I was worried about how it would affect my “ex” (a term I hate because it just sounds like we are divorced and scarred. She is really just my old girlfriend). I really just wanted to make sure something this great was actually happening. If she was this much of a match, there was no point in rushing things. I wanted to kiss her even on the first date and fully planned on it happening in a more romantic setting during the next date. Everything happened so quickly. Deep down, I didn’t want it to work out this soon; this was supposed to be a work in progress. I was supposed to take the year to be single or casually date but find myself before finding someone else. I wanted to work hard to find the right person for me, but I did no work at all. Well I didn’t fall in love, but I did really like what we had going. It was 100% obvious that she liked me a lot, and I am much better at reading girls than you think. Yet, as I was asking her ideas for our third date, she told me she “wasn’t really feeling a connection, so it’s probably better if we didn’t see each other anymore.” I laughed at first. Seriously?? Haha. Okay. Apparently on planet Earth, a “good connection” is not what I thought it was. I was upset / shocked for a day and even called her to get better closure, but I honestly wasn’t that devastated. At least I had a glimpse of normalcy, a glimpse of someone out there just like me, a glimpse of a good connection. Maybe we felt too much like we were supposed to like each other and assumed we were a perfect match. I was hesitant to do anything but casually date and have fun, and maybe that showed. I was definitely not ready for anything serious, so it’s probably a good thing that I’m not around someone I could see myself being very serious with in the near future.

I’m able to think about it this soon without getting upset. The only part bothering me is the abrupt end to something that was, in my mind, a mutually enjoyable positive thing. Even though I like things to be unpredictable, I would rather have them unpredictable according to reality. I want the parts that are supposedly given to remain given. That being said, it’s been a long time since I had a reason or desire to put gel in my hair.

Most people need little reminders that others care, or that their work and effort is appreciated. I need big reminders that I am still alive. That I am a real person.

I hate all of you out there who expect others to pick up for your slack in group projects. Grow up. How inconsiderate can you be? Do your part.

She was exactly what I was looking for, if I actually had an idea what I was looking for.

This year will lack that feeling of “ennui,” the term existential philosophers love. Although it has been a little unusual so far, I am taking it with an actual grain of salt, as opposed to no salt. I’m surprised at how cool I am about getting rejected. Maybe I’m so used to things not going as planned, but I have not let this affect my optimism or confidence in the least. I’m not about to turn into the Curtis of 2012 or 2011. See ya, over-reactions and depression and self-pity and self-loathing.

I’m finally selling a bunch of my old souped-up Civic engine parts from high school on eBay. I forgot how much this stuff was worth.

You just can’t beat a peanut butter and banana sandwich on toasted gluten-free bread. Why is the hyphen so often excluded in gluten-free? Gluten free (noun)? No.

Jónsi. I have no clue what he is saying, and I don’t think he does either. At least it is a real language, unlike when they sing as Sigur Ros. Yet it still gets me going.

Life in 2013 is so new and different. For the first time since college, I don’t have an ex or bad habit or guilty pleasure or past fake crush to turn to. I like it much better this way. Bring it on, new friends and lovers! My decisions will be much better with regards to girls from here on out.

I want to go to New Zealand and Australia soon. If only I could just hop in the car and drive there, I would. I guess Loyola Water Tower Campus will have to suffice for now.

Since when has there been a need for Winter Storm nomenclature? Why don’t we name thunderstorms then? Showers? Sprinklings / drizzlings / dew? High waves? Winds over 10 mph? Cold fronts? If my namesake were to be used for anything weather related (observe the correct non-usage of a hyphen), it would have to be a derecho or a sandstorm.

There is a jar of peanut butter, an ‘ordinateur,’ a book, and a quacking duck stuffed animal accompanying me in bed tonight.

I expect to excel at everything, so if something isn’t my strength, I feel like it is a huge weakness. It consumes me, overwhelms me; it makes me feel horribly guilty and look negatively upon myself. In reality, I might not be the best at something, but that doesn’t mean I am bad at it. It’s also okay to suck at some things; there’s no reason to beat myself up over things I cannot control. Sometimes even my self-criticism is not constructive.

Yes, K, I want to feel good about myself with someone else. I get a little lonely. It’s more about the companionship than anything, but it’s also fun to like someone new. Now exit from my thoughts again please.

Yes, J, you’re a bad friend and a worse person. Now go back to being absent from my mind.

It is 5:15 AM. I haven’t slept yet.

I no longer have any taste at all for “redeeming qualities.” If you treat me or my friends like crap, I don’t care how flattering or attractive or charming you are because you’re not going to be a serious part of my life. I’ve been used by others, especially girls, way too much. It’s sickening. How dare you abuse the random abilities you were born with at the expense of innocent people who put in ten times the work to be there for you. Maybe that’s just the nature of the business, but I refuse to face it.

It is absurd how loud the person is above me. She is the loudest, quickest, most piercing, most frequent pacer. It seems like she always has high heels, or a pogo stick. She has a large dog that sounds like a dinosaur. Apparently there is anti-insulation, because the sounds from above are deafening. She uses some weird vacuum or cleaning device that must resemble a Zamboni. Almost every freaking day. She opens and closes drawers and closets and doors louder than an angry engaged couple. I barely make a peep, yet when I quietly talk on the phone late at night, I think she sends passive aggressive messages to me via the hit of a broom handle or an extra loud movement. It literally sounds like a boom. I’ve got to talk to the landlord about that. I’m extremely non-confrontational yet also passive aggressive in my own way. I know that if I do have a confrontation, there’s no way I can be nice and calm about it. So instead of saying something stupid because I can’t control my emotions, I choose the path of least resistance. Now if it did get to the point of insanity, I would talk to the person. But right now, it’s more of an observation. I am sometimes curious as to what kind of machines she is using up there, and what in the world she is doing with that dog. I try to imagine what she is making for dinner based on what I hear. I have tried to figure out her dog’s sleep schedule. I have tried to determine how many dressers she has and how they are arranged so as to maximize drawer opening and closing noise from any given point in the apartment and what the necessity for that says about her personality. This has turned into a character study more than anything.


My Chicago Bucket List

I never really had any reason to make a list of things to do while living in a city; in Springfield, just write down Abraham Lincoln and you’re good, and in Peoria, there are enough to remember in your head. But when I moved to San Francisco, I recognized the abundance of things to do while living in such an area. I made an SF bucket list, and I am happy to say I crossed off almost everything (and I will go back someday to cross off the rest).

Now that I’m in Chicago, it’s a similar situation – I am in a sprawling metropolitan area teeming with opportunities. It is different here because I never lived that far away, so I already have done plenty of things in the city. Nonetheless, the phrase “Chicago bucket list” has come up multiple times recently, and there is so much I never got around to doing as a visitor. That is why I have been inspired to make a list of things I would really like to do while living here.

Common ones: The Field Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo, Millennium Park, Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier (All Done)

Sports: See the Cardinals vs. Cubs at Wrigley Field (Done), White Sox (Done), Bulls (Done), Bears, Blackhawks, Rush (arena football)

See the Million Dollar Quartet

See a Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance

Visit the Goodman Theatre

See “Metamorphoses” at LookingGlass Theatre

See a play at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (Done)

Go to a Blue Man Group performance

See a concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music

See a free stand-up comedy show at a dive bar (Done, “The Two-Hour Comedy Hour”)

See a poetry slam

Walk out on the Willis (Sears) Tower Skydeck Ledge

Have a cup of coffee while looking out of the 94th floor of the Hancock Building

Take a Segway tour

Explore Northerly Island

Walk next to the Caldwell Lily Pool (Done)

Go ice skating in Millennium Park

Play tennis in Grant Park

Sit by Buckingham Fountain

Read a book in what feels like a small-town park (Done, secret location)

Ride my bike the entire length of the Lakefront Trail (Halfway Done)

Ball with the ballers at Horner Park in a game of pick-up (Done)

Join a city basketball league (Done)

Join a city Ultimate Frisbee league (Done)

Take the Chicago Sunset Cruise

Walk through the Garfield Park Conservatory

Go to the Logan Square Farmers Market

Meditate at the Bodhi Spiritual Center

Take a class at Discovery Center

Take piano lessons at Bucktown Music

Go to Brookfield Zoo

Go to the Driehaus Museum

Visit the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows (Done)

Visit the Oriental Institute Museum (mainly ancient Egyptian things, which I love)

Visit the Fed’s Money Museum

Visit the Hemingway House

See the Frank Lloyd Wright Home, The Rookery, and the Robie House

Experience The Violet Hour

Dine at Hot Chocolate

Go to Taste of Chicago (Done)

Visit Marbles: The Game Store (Done)

Explore and peruse at Myopic Books (Done)


In the surrounding area:

Skydive for the first time at Skydive Chicago

Drive an Indy Car at Chicagoland Speedway (through my credit card’s rewards program)

Dine at a Medieval Times show (Done)

Go to Six Flags Great America (Done)

Go to the IKEA store (Done)

Wander through Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

Learn to snowboard at Raging Buffalo

Play around at GameWorks (Done)

See the elk herd in Elk Grove (Done)

Visit the American Movie Palace Museum

Go to the Illinois Railway Museum

Walk through the Morton Arboretum

Visit Sonny Acres Pumpkin Farm in the fall

Stay at the Lynfred Winery Bed & Breakfast

There are plenty of others, like local arts and crafts fairs, festivals, and quiet walks through pretty parks and woods, but this list is pretty extensive. I look forward to doing as many things as possible on my Chicago bucket list.

Yes, a New Year’s Post

While much of the world is out partying, or at least celebrating with friends or family, I am sitting in my room alone reading Pincher Martin and waiting for the time to pass. I like to pretend it’s just another day, because, in reality, it is. I hate New Year’s. I have had too many forgettable experiences on or around the changing of the year, plus I despise the excessive fanfare and overblown hype and noise. And it’s part of my Big Three after Thanksgiving and Christmas, so the last of my holiday uncheer still looms.

In all my years, I’ve never seen one as enigmatic as 2012. Should I call it positive? Negative? I usually consider myself a realist, but I honestly have no clue how to assess this year as a whole.

I moved across the country. I left a lot behind – close friends, a great city and climate, and everything I started. Bad because I felt like a failure for giving up on what I originally moved to SF for.  Good because I was doing the right thing and trying to make a positive change where I felt at home.

I couldn’t find or keep a job. I worked a number of temporary jobs for less than two weeks. I participated in focus groups and market research studies. I moved boxes, entered data, parked cars, analyzed the Chicago real estate market, and acted as an online merchant. I was with four temp agencies and had little luck with any of them. Bad because I need income and work experience and something to keep me busy. Good because I had free time to figure out myself and fix up my apartment and read good books and hang out with my girlfriend and travel and exercise and explore the city.

I started at a new school in Chicago, to finish the master’s degree I initially began in San Francisco. Bad because I still don’t know if I want finance (or anything) to tie me down. Good because, obviously, I am finishing something that will benefit me in the future and provide me with a sense of accomplishment.

I began and ended a relationship.  The craziest relationship of my life. A lot happened in a short time. (The relationship was) bad because I’ve never hurt or been hurt by someone else as much in my life. Good because I got to know an awesome girl and had great memories and so much fun while experiencing new feelings of happiness and sharing part of myself with someone I adored.

I started taking Adderall after being diagnosed with ADD. Bad because I don’t like taking drugs. Good because my mind badly needs help focusing, and thinking more clearly has lessened my depression.

I started to become more aware and critical of the actual Curtis. I had deeper conversations with close friends and companions. I used a number of means to express myself more effectively. Bad because it’s so freaking challenging and because what one finds upon introspection is not always pretty. Good because I am on the road to figuring out my interests, my goals, and my optimal path.

Maybe I’m not smart enough to determine whether 2012 was positive, negative, or a wash, but it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is this: I made strides in the right direction, strides I have never thought about taking before. Becoming an adult has more appeal to me than it did at the beginning of the year. Characteristics I started seeing in myself: responsibility, assertiveness, self-confidence, and hope. I have made baby steps in the right direction. I have become increasingly conscious of my inner being, and there are so many bright possibilities that have arisen from the thinking I have forced myself to do. As long as I build on the things I experienced this year, I can consider it a success.

A sad goodbye to the many things and people no longer in my life, and a happy hello to any new things that will stand in their place.

My resolutions for the year to come? Don’t be with someone who doesn’t really get me. Play an instrument. Don’t over-overanalyze. Consume very little gluten. Get a dang job. Figure out what makes me happy, and do everything in my creative power to go for it. Skydive.

Now that 2013 is here, the lights have dimmed, and the dust has settled, I’m ready to put the Curtis train into motion. I fully intend on making progress this year in numerous ways. My feelings aren’t going to wear off after a couple days, trust me. I hope you see how hard I am trying as we go along.