What I Learned From Uber


I cried like some sort of grandmother.

I opened the email, and I cried and cried and cried.

This was not like any other cry I’d ever had.  This was a sobbing, heaving cry that I couldn’t get under control.  I couldn’t see, I was crying so hard.  And I’ve been going through a phase lately where I cry a lot!  But not like this.  This was something different.  I know that to be true, because of what started it.

An Uber gift card.

I’ve never used Uber.  It seems too trendy and expensive to me.  My cousin drives for Lyft, and I come from a community with a lot of cab drivers, and I overheard one of them complaining that he was constantly losing business to Uber.  My heart went out to him.  To me, Uber is the ride-sharing equivalent of gentrification, so I really have had no interest in it, nor need for it, until now.  Having totaled my car, I’ve been getting around by city bus, and here in Orange County, California, it’s pretty limited, especially later in the day.  Not like Chicago, or I imagine New York.  So my life has become pretty limited.  But somebody sent me a $50 Uber gift card and I just couldn’t handle it – I’m even tearing up about it as I write about it now.  Why’s that?

Because I hate myself, but he doesn’t hate me.  And he barely even knows me.

The bane of my whole existence, more so than my poor health, lack of steady employment, or mostly single parent upbringing has been my low self-esteem, and I see signs of it in places I didn’t even know it existed.  Recently I blind carbon copied Nina Rubin on a job lead she emailed to me, after hearing I’d have to leave California soon if I can’t find full-time employment.  She noticed right away that instead of tooting my own horn, like most people do when trying to get a job, I did the opposite.  I tore myself down, letting this person who barely knew me know everything that was wrong with me as a worker, and why I hadn’t been able to successfully change careers after two years of trying.  I did it out of fear that if I oversold myself and couldn’t handle the job, I’d be found out as the loser I am.  Nina was shocked, advising me never ever to do that again.  And I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

Nina wasn’t so much shocked that I didn’t realize it though, she was shocked that I thought so little of myself, when during the time I was her client, a coworker who barely knew me gave me her kidney.  Prior to that, I’d shared with Nina in-sessions that I won a trip to Washington DC for writing an essay when I was in high school, had been published numerous times, had friends across the country, and a family who loved me dearly.  Most recently I’d won a $3000 scholarship to attend paralegal school, which was why she gave me the job lead in the first place, because she believed in me, that I could do the job, and likely would do it well.  Why then, didn’t I believe that?

There are many reasons, which therapists have sussed out as coming from my difficult childhood.  I’ll spare you all the details, because they’re just background to why that Uber gift card made me cry.  The point is that no amount of praise, no achievement, no number of friends has ever seemed to convince me that I’m a worthwhile human beings.  I see myself only through all of the awards I didn’t win, all the goals I didn’t accomplish, and the piddling number of significant others, rather than friend, that I’ve had.  I’m a lonely person with an unbelievable amount of long-term friends.  I had a credit on a TV show with my very first job in television, yet give myself no credit.  And most of all, I see myself as a failure, despite having succeeded at more things than many people have ever tried.  And yet in spite of all that, somebody I barely knew heard that I didn’t have a car, and without my asking, bought me a $50 gift card to use Uber so I could get around.  He’s not related to me.  He doesn’t owe me anything.  Thus far all I’ve ever done for him was show up for meetings of a filmmaking group he organized, and helped the other people in the group with their first attempts at making films.  And for that, he moved me because he naturally sensed what nobody else could convince me, that I’m a good person BECAUSE I AM.  I just didn’t realize it until now.

It made me think of the movie (because I’m a film geek) About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, 2002), where (spoiler alert!) the Jack Nicholson character weeps at the end, having realized that he really does matter to somebody after all.  What my friend Stacy (a professional therapist) and others have been trying to convince me of for years is that I don’t need to prove how worthwhile I am to others because they know it, and wouldn’t help or spend time with me if they didn’t.  The “some” of us, as Tavis Smiley likes to put it, is not “the sum” of us, and while I may have spent my life judging myself by my faults, others have not.  My friends and loved ones know I have flaws, and the vast majority of them don’t care.  I am a good person, or as my father put it, I am “a good boy.  He just sells himself short.”

In the past, I rationalized the kindness others showed me as a sense of obligation, because of whatever connection I had to them, or basic human kindness, or pity, or worst of all, because they wanted something from me.  It never occurred to me that they were helping me because they just liked me, that I am, as Nina put it, “an amazing person,” and thus worthy of their time and effort.  In other words, people aren’t helping or spending time with me because they feel they have to or because I bugged them into doing so.  They’re doing it because they want to, to the point that even in a limited number of interactions, they can tell I’m a good guy.

I wept because that Uber gift card might have finally brought me to the point of realizing it for myself.  I know I won’t change overnight – old habits die hard – but I now recognize what’s good about me because other people do too, and have shown it.  I didn’t achieve all of those things because I’m lucky.  I’ve struggled in life because I have challenges that most other people don’t have.  And most importantly, I’ve overcome those challenges because I am “an amazing person,” and am where I am in life because until now, I just haven’t realized or accepted it.

But no more.  It’s time to turn the page, move on, and ride that Uber.  The kidney transplant gave me 15-20 more years of life that I didn’t have before.  I have nothing to lose, and no more reasons not to do that which I’ve always been capable of doing.  I am a good person.  And if I live my life knowing that, the past will not matter.  Car or no, I will always be able to get where I need to go.

And if for some reason I can’t, there will always be people ready, willing and able to help me get there.  Because I’m worth it, and regardless of whether I tell them, they’ll know it!






Almost Famous


Well, I’ve been able to admit it to Twitter, at least.

The bane of my existence is the simple fact that I am good – no, let’s get away from self-deprecating false modesty, great – at exactly two things: writing and public speaking.  But you couldn’t tell that from my resume.

The quality of the resume itself might suggest it, but I think these days people assume that people get professionals – or people like me – to help them craft their resumes.  So the effort and care I put into crafting mine, a different one for each job I apply to, goes largely unnoticed.  From my resume, you can only tell that I graduated with high distinction in English by reading that line item – the resume doesn’t indicate what it might mean to a potential employer.  Yes, I list a bunch of my writing achievements, but not all, like that aforementioned Twitter account that has 500 followers now (and has been vetted for ‘bots).  I don’t list the published articles I’ve written on my resume, because those publications aren’t to be spoken of (I was young and needed the money).  I don’t mention the website I currently write for because again, it came about because of those unmentionable articles.  All it lists is that I did a gang of customer service jobs, have some legal training, and did well in education, both professionally and as a student.  It doesn’t mention that I can write just about anything, in any writing style, but did all of the above grunt work just to survive.

So how are we going to change that?

At a recent Meetup I went to, the ladies in the group all strongly felt that I really should put some work into getting a job that draws from my considerable writing and public speaking talents, and in accordance with that, I decided that I really should compete in public speaking contests.  Various club leaders (because I’ve been in and visited several clubs at this point) have urged me to do that for years, but because I’m good at public speaking, I’ve been lazy about it.  I already know that I’m good, and have thus far felt no urge to prove it, as I’m just not a competitive person.  It’s also why I’ve done so many jobs just for the money they offered.  Some call that low self-esteem, which might be mixed up in there, but I call it a lack of interest in making money.  Like Mary J. Blige, I just want to be happy.

The second things I’m doing to try to do work that draws from what I’m best at is getting in touch with Syracuse’s alumni career services network, and see if we can alter my resume / network better to get myself a decent entry-level writing or public speaking job.  “Decent” because again, I don’t care how much it pays at this point.  As my sister pointed out, SU needs successful alumni to donate and raise the cache of the school.  When I first moved out to Southern California with a credit on a television show coming out the gate, it seemed I was going to do just that.  Then my health took a dive, so I just worked enough to collect health insurance and live.  Now that my health is better, I have no excuses.  I want writing and public speaking to become a regular part of my job, and I want that next job to lead to a career that focuses on writing or public speaking.

I know I can do it, because I’ve done it before.  As long as I can survive long enough to do so on limited money, I’m set.