By Jackie Thakkar Oct. 23, 2019
With two Paul Rudds living side by side, Netflix’s Living with Yourself shows how, in the end, we are all metaphorically battling a version of ourselves that we think we are capable of being. And the worst kind of emotional abuse is the one we inflict on our confidence.
Netflix is the average millennial’s entertainment, but also their friend and therapist. So now that I’m counting down the days when I transition from office life to freelancing (read: unemployment), I’ve been going back to streaming well in search of creative inspiration to tide me over in this confusing time. And that’s when I stumbled upon Living with Yourself, a Paul Rudd-starrer that paints a searingly accurate take on the battle the millennial generation faces over “living their best life”.
Millennials are well acquainted with feeling burnt out and looking back at old pictures of ourselves when we looked younger and happier, with denser hairlines, and shinier career prospects. The past seems rosy as opposed to right now, where the few of us with “real jobs” are only sticking to them because the job market is shite and the rest of us are only living with our parents because we can’t afford rent. Heck! We’ve been called the burnout generation even though half of us are yet to turn 30.
And it’s this exact visceral feeling of unworthiness that Timothy Greenberg’s Living with Yourself explores so well. The movie digs deep into the human emotion of self-doubt through the story of Miles Elliot, played by an in-form Paul Rudd. Once a much-revered marketing whiz, Miles’ career, and indeed his whole life, hasn’t picked up the way he’d have expected. His approaching middle age has only heightened his cynicism. Clearly, Miles needs to get his mojo back, so he coughs up $50,000 for a revolutionary “treatment” that will result in a new and improved version of himself.
Where Living with Yourself gets interesting is when it starts dealing with the procedure’s aftermath, where an unforeseen twist means that the old, jaded Miles has to learn to live alongside the new and improved Mile. It’s an absurd, sci-fi scenario, but the series is at its most relatable when the OG Miles and the new Miles are forced to figure out this clearly complex situation.
Heck! We’ve been called the burnout generation even though half of us are yet to turn 30.
The best part about Living with Yourself isn’t just the measured performances and precise insight into human insecurity, but how it oscillates between Black Mirror-level dark to Fleabag-level self-aware. Watching a disheveled old Miles alongside the goody two shoes Miles 2.0 is by itself, thoroughly enjoyable. The latter has more creative inspiration, visibly better hair and smoother skin. And much to the chagrin of old Miles, almost everyone from his life seems to like this impostor much more than they ever liked him.
Miles’ insecurity, triggered by what is essentially himself operating at peak efficiency, has all the telltale signs of impostor syndrome. Defined by the Harvard Business Review as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success,” impostor syndrome is probably a familiar feeling to anyone working in a creative field. Even the best of us aren’t spared.
Award-winning author Neil Gaiman, whose work has been adapted for TV and film, once spoke of suffering from impostor syndrome. “Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.” He ends his story by recounting how he bumped into another Neil, who shared that he was also suffering from impostor syndrome. That Neil was Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. And Gaiman felt a bit better. “Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”
There were multiple points in the eight episode-long series where my own impostor syndrome was triggered. Miles’ all-too-relatable struggle to meet deadlines, while also trying to gain back his lost confidence, hit close to home – as creative professionals, we’re expected to come up with something out of the box every day. After five years in the industry, I’ve learnt that the only creative professionals that aren’t absolutely full of cynicism, are the ones who either have their dealer or therapist or both on speed dial.
Most millennials will identify with Miles’ struggles with impostor syndrome since, at some point or the other, we’ve felt the pressure of living up to the expectations set by our own past selves.
In one memorable sequence, real Mike and clone Mike get into a scuffle over the latter’s growing affection for his wife. “Are you jealous of yourself?” Mike’s wife asks him. It shows how in the end, we are all metaphorically battling a version of ourselves that we think we are capable of being. It’s always You vs The Ideal Version of You. And this battle can be triggered by something as mundane as seeing your friend’s Instagram feed, leading to agonising hours of unfairly comparing yourself to them and wondering whether or not you’re worthy of success at all. Indeed, the worst kind of emotional abuse is the one we inflict on ourselves.
Most millennials will identify with Miles’ struggles with impostor syndrome since, at some point or the other, we’ve felt the pressure of living up to the expectations set by our own past selves. A lot of us would likely jump at the chance of having a new and improved version of ourselves take over our lives. But that’s where Living with Yourself excels. It exposes the downside of what would happen if there really was a 2.0 version of you that was rolled off an assembly line. It might surprise you how perhaps we are already the most ideal versions of ourselves right now, self-doubt, warts, and all.
I’m glad I watched Living with Yourself at a time in my life where things look more uncertain than ever. It’s taught me to take that cynical voice in the back of my head with a pinch of salt. And if you’re the kind of person who is their worst critic and always feel like you aren’t intelligent enough, or attractive enough, or lovable enough, then perhaps watching it might help you too. But if you take this writer’s advice, you’re enough either way.
Masking anxiety with humour. Living with his dog, cat, and mediocrity. Creating content aur life se kaafi discontent. Tweeting as @juvenile_jack.