Joel wasn’t in the mood to go, but he didn’t want people to think he was lazy or negligent. So he found himself unenthusiastically attending the event. Once he arrived he quickly coerced himself into character; for though he denied it, he desperately craved the approval of the people gathered (even in spite of the fact that he had seen no one important as of yet). There were occasional fleeting moments when Joel would become acutely aware of the deplorable delicacy of his desires …he covertly loathed himself for forfeiting the goal of getting people to admire him, and it was not without bitterness that he had now settled into a chronically discontent routine of simply aiming for people’s piddling approval.

Deep in the dim depressing fog of his own self-loathing he hadn’t even remotely realized who it was that had just hailed him with a hearty and earnest greeting. What he had been oblivious to was the salutation of the most preeminent and reputable member of the society wherein Joel had his credentials! This man of renown had just breezed past saying, “Joel! Great to see you! …I’ve gotta take this call, but I’ll circle back to touch base with you.” He was made of aware of what had just occurred by a complete stranger asking him the awe-filled questions, “You know him!? …You’re on a first name basis!?”

Something like an instantaneous narcissistic sugar rush occurred inside Joel. A deluge of ecstasy flooded his ego. But the moment vanished almost as quickly as it had arrived, for he had failed to conceal his elation. It is not that Joel had paraded his egotistical glee about the room, but certainly a handful of people had seen the smug smile unintentionally register on his face. He was humiliated, for he assured himself that everyone had heard the words of the important man, and subsequently they had seen Joel beam with pride upon being made aware of the greeting bestowed on him. And though no one had the audacity to call him out on it, he knew they must all now know of his self-congratulatory conceit. As subtly as he could manage, Joel slowly drifted to the periphery and then with painstaking pride-imbued effort he excused himself from the gathering.

As he walked home, he goaded himself for this episode of involuntary honesty. He had worked and strategized so determinedly to keep it concealed… this most vulnerable and embarrassing truth about himself, and now the whole world knew of his disgusting habit of making himself the center of the universe.