I am not who I appear to be…

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This is not a complaint, but rather a confession — I am sort of flunking this life thing.

I am 55 years old, and honestly, I don't know how to do pretty much anything. And it's not like I'm so rich that other people do stuff for me, it's just I am flying by the seat of my pants. I've always felt this way.

When we emigrated to the States, I was a 12-year-old child who didn't know a lot of English, but made up for it by reading voraciously, and learning expressions and language from the TV, like everyone else. I was shaped by equal parts Bugs Bunny, Columbo, The Flintstones and Gilligan's Island. As I got older, I no longer had an excuse of having to learn a new language, but I have no idea how I graduated from high school - I still don't know. I talked to no guidance counselors, got no advice on scholarships or grants, and wrote no essays for colleges. My mother recommended that I study Respiratory Therapy, so that's what I signed up for, at Front Range Community College.

Classwork was easy - you are told what to study and you are told when you are going to be accountable for the things you've studied. However, when we had to do internships in the hospitals, real work with real people was terrifying. I had to administer medication, and be responsible for people’s health, and I hated it.

And later, when I got into graduate school, I lucked out - I didn't have to take GREs to get admitted - no tests at all like that - I applied and got in (I love you, Southeast Missouri State University, because you were easy!). When I started my Master’s program, I saw a flyer advertising a job for the school that came with full tuition. The job was working on university publication and public relations documents – like descriptions of programs, colleges, and special events. So, I could graduate with no debt, and get paid to write? I applied as quickly as I could, and scoured the campus to tear down every other flyer about this job, so I would have less competition. Ethics be damned - I wanted that job, and I got it. To this day it was, hands down, the best job I've ever had, with one of the best bosses I had the honor of working under.

Yet I felt, and still feel as though I got everything by luck. I fell into that or I found this, purely accidentally. I spent my days living by the seat of my pants, terrified that I will be found out as the fraud that I really am.

Years later, I still felt like a fraud. How did I parent my kids when they were young? I panicked first, then did everything I think I was supposed to, but was still screaming on the inside, scared that I might do or say something that would screw them up for life . . . or kill them.

I live with a feeling that I missed that one day in school when they taught all the stuff you were supposed to know. All the essential life skills, all the confidence-building exercises, all of that stuff, I must have missed because I had a cold that day.

The only time I feel confident is when I write. I am in my element, like a penguin swimming in the water - as opposed to all the other times, when I am like a penguin on land. I know how to construct a sentence, how to use a stronger verb, an interesting anecdote to spice up a punchline. I have even learned to accept and value constructive criticism, and accept important feedback that improves my writing. However, I have no idea how to: 1) get an agent, 2) get published, 3) where to go from there. Hell, I have trouble just making an outline, or finishing … everything! Sheesh. How am I supposed to succeed in a business I know nothing about, although there are numerous books about it - so many, in fact, I get overwhelmed just looking at the titles.

Let's be honest - I don't even know how to do mornings. I have a great deal of trouble waking up, and wind up pushing the snooze button numerous times yet not remembering doing that at all. So basically, I am living a terrific life that feels like a lie because I don't believe that I deserve it nor how I even got it.

There is a Swedish proverb that says, "Luck doesn't give, it only lends." Excellent. So now I am scared shitless about luck taking away what wasn't mine to begin with. Another thing to worry about - good thing I am really good at panicking and worrying.

I wish I was a person who had her poop in a group. I wish I could have a routine, and live my joy. But I am not that person, that optimistic, looking forward only and living in the moment person. I quake with fear, thinking that everything I have and everything I am will be stripped away from me. Because, honestly, I don't know how I came to this point, and can only think of the Talking Heads song: "This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife!"

Actually, I am not alone. So many people, in fact, feel this way, the feeling has a name. It’s called the Imposter Syndrome – it’s a psychological pattern where an individual doubts her (or his) accomplishments and has a long-standing fear of being exposed as a “total fraud.” Apparently, most people feel that way at one time or another. Let’s take comfort from one another, understand that those feelings are ridiculously normal, and carry on. Most people are so wrapped up in feeling like frauds themselves, they won’t notice that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.


Written by

Writer and storyteller, immigrant, wife, mom, knitter, collector of jokes, lover of cheap, sweet wine.

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