My wayward eyes sometimes catch an accidental peek at ‘The Apprentice’ and I feel the hot pain of acid reflux choking in my throat. Are those people really the best young business men and women of their generation? Is this humanity’s future, these strange, anodyne hermaphrodites capable of reproducing by simply looking at themselves in the mirror? If these are our best, then why do I feel like our planet is plunging into the sun? Why do they make me want to run away and hide in the woods, eating otter feet and wearing a wild badger as a hat?
Yet another part of me recognises that the reason I don’t like these bastards is because they exude the confidence that eludes me. Confidence is all you really need to survive. Oh, hesitation had its charms for a while in the 1980s. Doubt and self-awareness were perhaps good while they lasted back in the nineties. But we now live in the 21st century and life is all about Confidence: three syllables and one capital ‘C’. This isn’t a time to go around calling yourself a name like William Adams. People will abbreviate that to Bill and how good would that make you feel? No, you need to get creative with punctuation. Call yourself ‘will.i.am’. Turn it into a brand. Copyright it. Make a tattoo of it. People will then begin to see you for what you really are or am…
Hell, let’s just move to San Francisco, open our own internet startup on the back of one ill-conceived idea and a hell of a lot of capital. I’ll grow my chin hair into interesting shapes. You can invent your own yogurt which you’ll carry around your neck in your own trademarked rubber goitre. And if anybody says that we’re mad, we’ll just laugh because we know differently. We’re just confident!
Except perhaps – just perhaps – over confidence is starting to become a problem. Of course, that’s a message you won’t hear from ‘The Apprentice’. Ask a surgeon if they can operate and they would probably ask for vital signs and detailed medical history before they decide. Ask the chancers on ‘The Apprentice’ and they’d punch the air as they shout ‘yes we can!’ They’d be up to their elbows in spleens and kidneys before you’ve noticed they were only supposed to be removing your toe nail.
But where has this culture of arrogance and over confidence come from? It has to be a generational. We don’t look back and think: Marie Curie, now there was one great bullshitter and that Albert Einstein found a good marketing gimmick when he scribbled down e equals mc squared. Yet ask many people who know nothing about football who is the greatest footballer and many would say David Beckham. Beckham the ever silent. Beckham the enigma standing at the back of the stage as great events unfold. Beckham on his speedboat racing down the Thames as some poor bastard hides beneath the dashboard and actually steers the craft. Beckham the Confident.
Like many bad things and just a few good, overconfidence is probably a legacy of the Thatcher years. It was Thatcher who encouraged people to aspire higher and, though there’s nothing is wrong with aspiring to better yourself, somewhere the ends became less important than the means. Status was more important than the skill that got you there. Suddenly there are characters like Grant Shapp holding vast sway in the political life of our country.
The problem is that confidence is seen as synonymous with talent. We’ve bred a generation of super-children, all eager to grasp the world in their fat little fingers and make it their own. It’s everywhere you look: young screamers with old faces and absolute confidence in their abilities and ambitions. The reality is that we’re actually breeding a race of bullshitters, fast talkers, and people who can give a good presentation where opinion is more important than fact. When they get a little older, they’re reviewing the papers from London on Sky News or the BBC, expressing the same parochial views in a way that admits no shades of grey, no doubt, no humility towards the utterly unknowable entirety of the world and cosmos.
Yet I should be so lucky to have that middle class confidence. That ability to bullshit has become a requisite to success. It opens doors. I occasionally look down job listings and fall into a sobbing mess in the middle of the floor because even the simplest job demands the track record of a NASA astronaut. I read the job requirements for a bin man and I feel daunted by the qualifications.
What can I do? Nothing! My skills are ill formed, incomplete, a mixture of the self-taught and half-forgotten. If only I could bullshit and tell a lie that I could do all those things!
Because bullshit overwhelms us and it keeps us down unless we take the pill and become one of them. And my advice is to do just that. I’m thinking of slipping that pill myself pretty soon. I want to become a guilt-free bullshitter because there’s no nobility in remaining true to your values or beliefs. People will think you’re weak, confused, lacking ambition and drive. Climb that corporate ladder. Climb it because it gets easier the higher you go, up where the oxygen is thinner, where it starves your brain and it encourages the bullshit to grow.