“I’m a doctor. Yeah my friends and I went to med-school together and we started a practice. I’m making really good money. No we should hang out sometime. Yeah no TOTALLY. Let me get your number. My name? Oh it’s uh Dr. Joe Fullocrap Rx MD. DDS. OBGYN.”
Sound familiar? Anyone who has spent time in public around alcohol and people trying to impress the opposite sex have heard the Bold-Face Occupational Lie, (BOL). The perpetrators are both male and female so neither side should start pointing fingers. I’ve heard just as many “I’m a UFC fighter.” lines as I have “I’m a professional swimsuit model.”
As it happens, many of my friends are pilots and they can’t stand the people who walk around telling others that they’re pilots as well, when in fact their only experience with aircraft is removing shoes at O’Hare. My friends are not upset with the basic BOL offender, the person that everyone knows is lying from the start. They’re referring to the Advanced and Technical Bold-Face Occupational Liar (ATBOL). These are the people who watch hours of online videos and read enough on Wikipedia to convince the general public that they are the real deal.
The phenomenon of the ATBOL seems to be drawn towards glamorous, risky, heroic or otherwise impressive occupations. I am sure there are a few people who go around lying about being a tax agent. However, there are plenty more who would lie about being a stock broker. Why the difference? Both are occupations in the financial field. Both are important. But only one has the imagined glitz of Wall Street, millions of dollars and the fine imported suits worn by Gordon Gekko.
Not many would lie about being an employee at a fire alarm company. Of course if that title were to change to firefighter, it’d be a whole different ballgame. Both jobs are very important, but only one has the heroism and perceived glamour of rescuing hapless women from their 5th floor apartment. After all, we didn’t see a movie about Kurt Russell checking the reception of photodiodes…he was fighting fires (with a blatant disregard for safety procedures by the way).
After listening to my friends complain about these ATBOLs, I realized that the whole problem was ego and id driven (like almost every other problem on earth). The ATBOLs’ id forced them to go through the trouble of learning about a foreign subject enough to convince people that it is their occupation, thus receiving soul-soothing accolades for their purported and completely imagined efforts. And my friends, having spent a considerable amount of time, money and hard work to become airline and military pilots, had an ego generated response. The real and the imagined must remain separate to retain order in the universe. Since the ego loves the rational, and constantly tests reality, something as impossible as an ATBOL being a colleague sends it into an alert mode. Besides, it’s just disrespectful.
There’s two ways of dealing with this issue. Confront the offender in a non-aggressive manner. ATBOL’s love to start arguments in public to appear superior but when their defenses are down, they’re hilarious to watch crash and burn (punintentional). Ask them something very specific about what they do without revealing what it is that you do. They’ll be able to hang only for a few minutes. Some of the ones who have hours of Wikipedia under their belt may go a little longer. Stay the course, eventually the house of cards will crumble and everyone will know the truth.
The other way is to ignore them. It sounds odd but a lie based on an occupation cannot last long. If a person says they’re a Force Recon soldier, people are going to wonder after a while why they’re not deployed…especially if it’s been 2 years since this line first came out and they’re still here telling everyone how they were in a firefight in Ramadi last weekend (by the way, if you really want to get your ass kicked, tell someone that you’re a veteran and let a real vet overhear you. Your life from that point will be decidedly downhill).
The power attached to a title is immense. We do not realize it but by just saying a word, we can completely change the way we think of ourselves and the way others think of us. That is why I carefully considered what to call myself on this blog: “scientific artist”.
Because other than some fairly simple experiments into electromagnetism, years of astronomy, building my own rocket motors, and over 15 years of studying and applying aerospace engineering and science (for fun), I have never done a serious day of science. Scientists have very rigid definitions for a reason. If simply slapping two magnets together or making a baking soda/vinegar volcano made you a scientist, then there would be a lot more contenders for the Nobel Prize.
On the other hand, I have produced art. I do actively compose music and perform live. I do take photographs (and charge money to do so). I do create mercifully short videos. I’ve had work published. So it’s safe to say that although there is no national certification for “artist”, I qualify as one. Does this make me better than anyone? Not at all. Better is a relative judgment anyway so my “better” could be your “hell-of-a-lot-worse”. Does it make me feel better than I can walk around and tell people I’m an artist? Absolutley not. The title does not concern me. In all honesty I would love to introduce myself as “A guy who likes a lot of stuff” but that just leads to more questions and even more disbelief.
For all the positive thinkers out there, I know what you’re about to say. “But I can be anything I want, anything is possible so why can’t I say that I’m a ______?” Easy, because you aren’t yet. The potential is in you, just like thousands of other possible paths for your life. But saying you’re in California when you’re really in Kansas is still a lie. Maybe you want to be in California and that’s fine. See yourself there, read books on it, immerse yourself and let the path unfold for you. That goes for anything you want to be. Want to be a race car driver? Start hanging out at race tracks. Want to be a chef? Look up local culinary schools and more importantly, spend more time in your own kitchen. But going around telling people you’re something you are not is misleading and does you no good in the long run. In many cases, the short run ain’t too pleasant either.