I know, the ten-trillion-dollar question, right? Who on earth is Bert Betterman? I mean, he clearly sounds awesome, but who is he? Is he an actor? A politician? An undercover agent for the CIA? An intelligent being from another planet or universe? Yes and no…let me explain.
Bert Betterman is completely fictitious (at least as far as I know). So in that sense, he could be anything you, I, or anyone else wanted him to be. To that end, I used the character idea as a somewhat humorous symbol of my aspirational self. If I ever climbed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and stood at the very top of self-actualization preparing to plant my flag, Bert Betterman would appear behind me, tap on my shoulder, scare the bejeezus out of me, and confidently point to his flag, already planted (and much bigger than mine).
The genesis of this character goes quite a ways back, at least in terms of my lifetime. As a child, my father started calling me “Bert,” and that sort of caught on within the family. Add the surname to it, and you get Bert Bloemendaal. It didn’t transfer over so well into my friend world, however, as my college buddies came up with the nickname “Bloemers,” which is pronounced “Bloomers.” I wasn’t really sure how I felt about that given how much it sounded like something out of an old-timey woman’s wardrobe. Eventually, however, it grew on me, and I didn’t have much of a choice because that’s what they were going to call me (and still do to this day).
One particular afternoon in college, however, I was talking with one of said friends about Seinfeld. I am assuming that show needs no explanation since it’s basically the Kleenex of sitcoms. Anyway, I’ve seen every episode at least twenty times, and so had he. The discussion led to a certain episode with a character played by John O’Hurley that went by the name of J. Peterman, Elaine’s boss while she was writing for the J. Peterman catalogue. I had always admired this brilliant character. He had this perfect combination of eccentricity, arrogance, and ignorance that made for hilarious awkwardness when he interacted with the commoners. In his mind, though he meant no disrespect, he hilariously thought he was simply better than other people.
And that’s where the magic happened. We have J. Peterman, a mostly harmless yet arrogant narcissist who, in his own mind, was better than the rest of the people. He was a better man. And then somehow in the conversation I had reason to mention that my family at home called me Bert sometimes. The rest worked itself out through simple laws of attraction:
J. Peterman -> a better man -> Betterman -> Brett Bloemendaal -> Bert -> Bert Betterman!
It was a treasure given to me from my buddy and the Seinfeld gods, one that I knew must go to higher and better use someday. And then I thought to myself, “J. Peterman writes a catalogue, I like to write…uh…stuff, why not make Bert Betterman the face the stuff I write?!” And so it was done!
Though Bert Betterman himself my be entirely fictional, the idea that our best selves are inside us waiting to be discovered is very real to me. Everyone has their own “Bert Betterman” somewhere who knows their path and purpose. While both Bert Betterman and J. Peterman themselves are over-the-top caricatures of arrogant self-belief and blind ignorance, we can learn a little bit from them about being appropriately confident in ourselves. Furthermore, imagining our own higher being as a sort of silly cartoon superhero helps us to access it without taking ourselves too seriously, releasing us from the disappointment of failed attempts at perfectionism.
Thanks for reading, and may you find the “Better Man (or Woman)” within you!