Yes, I know the title is total click-bait, but GOOD. It means you’re here and might even read on. I may be the only person who thinks this: Stop lying! Everyone knows you’re a fraud (fake, poseur, hot mess, etc.). Or, perhaps I am the only one willing to admit it, on-line, in words, preserved for posterity…or posterior. Showing my posterior, at least.
Meh, I have no pride.
But wait, maybe I do. Maybe I have a lot of pride, too much even. And that’s a huge part of my problem.
For years, I’d have the same sort of nightmare over and over. In the dream I’d be a successful whatever (doctor, lawyer, author) and my high school guidance counselor would show up to inform me all my credentials were worthless, because I never truly graduated high school.
I’d failed to complete ONE class (usually something stupid like Health or P.E.).
Since I’d gained entry to my advanced education by lying about having a high school diploma, I had to go back to high school and do everything all over since none of it counted.
In the dream, I’d be thirty or forty years old, yet put back in the tenth grade. Why the tenth? Because, DUH! It had been so many years since I’d attended high school that most of my credits were no longer valid.
All this was my own fault.
If I hadn’t lied my way through life, I wouldn’t be sitting in a room with a bunch of fourteen-year-olds reading The Great Gatsby for the seventh time (and still hating it).
This was the punishment a fraud like me deserved. I’d spent most of my life fooling people, lying, convincing them I was someone I wasn’t and this was my penalty. After years of ‘covering this up,’ they’d found me out.
What’s really odd about all these dreams was…I agreed.
How had I managed to make it decades with no one suspecting it was ALL a charade? Did I really expect to ‘get away’ with it?
There is a name for this, by the way: Impostor Syndrome. Good news is it mainly afflicts those who are high achievers—GOLD STAR FOR YOU!
Bad news? It can make life hell.
Going out on a limb here, but I’m assuming I’m not the only person who’s had these sorts of dreams, thoughts and feelings.
When I pay attention to the junk I tell myself, it’s enough to give me pause. Would I EVER talk to another person, even a stranger, the way I (often) talk to myself?
So where’s this garbage coming from?
It can stem from a lot of areas, but today we’re going to hone in on one. The feeling of being a fraud is a toxic byproduct of overachieving. Overachieving, as I’m learning, is my main go-to defense mechanism. If I’m red-lining day after day to DO ALL THE THINGS, I never have to slow down…and feel.
Feelings are scary. Not simply some feelings but ALL feelings. I don’t dare cry because I’m terrified I might never stop. That and, who likes weak, needy people, right? I can’t bear to feel anger because it’s too much. I’ve stuffed down so much rage, it feels like a peat fire that’s been burning for a thousand years.
What’s worse is that, not only have I avoided ‘bad’ feelings, but I’ve also avoided any good feelings (joy) because I don’t want to get too attached.
God forbid I relish in a great moment, because the longer I stay there the more it will hurt when it’s gone. These happy times are sort of like farm animals.
Don’t name them or you’ll get too attached.
What makes this toxic approach particularly insidious is that being a super high-achiever is a socially encouraged. It’s also a socially rewarded coping/escape mechanism.
Our culture rewards over-achievers. Why? Well *flips hair* first, we get $#!@ done. Secondly, we are (over)responsible, (over)dependable, and guaranteed not to burden anyone else by having any ‘needs.’ We’re an inspiration, a role model, and SO, SO STRONG!
Which is why everyone is surprised when we finally fall apart. Why? Pain is a signal we need to TEND something. We either need to fix it, face it, flush it or just FEEL it.
Case in point…
Years ago, I fractured my back. The doctors refused to give me any pain meds (which was a BLAST!)…or not. The reason? They wanted me to feel pain. If they gave me drugs that numbed all pain, the break would never heal. Since I’d be incapable of FEELING my limitations, the break would never heal or I’d likely make it worse.
Same with over-achieving. But being a high-achiever is far more dangerous. Broken bones we can see. Broken hearts? Not so much. Crushed discs show up on an MRI, whereas crushed dreams do not.
Alas, there is pain and so we get BUSY BEING AWESOME…and numb. In fact, everyone around us cheers us on, which is odd if we look at the behavior for what it is, and what it’s related TO.
If we started our day with a couple shots of vodka in our orange juice, society would judge us…harshly. If we smoked a joint, gambled away our rent money on-line, or snorted a few lines of cocaine using our kid’s Capri-Sun straw, we’d be a MONSTER.
Oh, but wake at 4:00 a.m. to go to the gym, pack GF-dairy-free-soy-free-non-GMO lunches for the kids, journal/meditate, and have all the emails returned before sunrise? Then work full-steam ten hours, write novels, blog, do all the laundry, and volunteer for every school event and never need help?
We’re a SUPERSTAR…which is we why HAVE to document all this on Instagram.
The snorting cocaine? Not so much. Yeah keep that off Instagram.
Sure, life is hard and there’s pain, sickness, death and loss. Nothing a great inspirational quote can’t fix.
***Remember to post it on Facebook, though 😛 .
No matter how much we might need to stop, to feel, to rest, we simply…can’t. We’re too strong to be so weak.
My parents divorced when I was ten, during a time when it was NOT common for people to divorce. My father, who was a super fun guy—but about as useful as ice trays in hell—did what any self-centered man-child would do. He took off for parts unknown where he could get out of paying a dime of child support.
Mom sent me to counseling, where the seeds of fraud could open and take root. Everything was fine. I was a straight-A student (all Honors classes), a first-chair clarinetist, teacher’s pet, did all my chores (and my little brother’s), cleaned the house and helped pay the bills. Sure I was only a kid, but childhood was overrated.
No, I didn’t miss my dad at ALL and I was SUPER GREAT!
Weird thing was the counselors bought it. All the adults bought it. I was only eleven years old and had them totally fooled. Better still? I’d fooled myself as well.
Why did I do this? First, my mom was in pain and I didn’t want to add to her pain. Besides, there were starving children in Africa, families caught in genocide, and innocent animals with no homes *plays Sarah McLauchlan*.
No one cared to hear my whining. What began as a childhood coping mechanism eventually became so ingrained in me, I no longer even noticed it. Had no clue how HORRIBLE my thinking was.
I know my grandmother just died, but who has time to cry when the closets are all such a mess? Not like crying is going to bring her back.
Social media has SO many incredible benefits. Blogging has helped me grow as a writer and a human being. I’ve even been brave enough to write posts about—GASP—being a recovering jerk.
***FYI, I am still in recovery.
Yet, I find it fascinating and heartbreaking how we are more ‘connected’ than ever in human history, but more isolated than ever before. The potential for deeper relationships is there, but so often we’re afraid. If they knew who I REALLY was (fill in blank here).
It’s why so I feel so many of us writers struggle to feel the joy of authentic achievement. We’ve been shoved into a world of ‘author participation trophies’ and are uncertain if our writing is any good or if the algorithms had a glitch that day. Sun spots? Hackers?
My book hit #3 in mystery! …for three minutes. WHY did I refresh the page? It DID hit #3 right? I should’ve taken a screenshot.
Sure, I’ve written 1400 blogs and four books, but I’m not a REAL writer because I haven’t bought a beach house in cash.
My book is doing great, but not because the writing is excellent. It sold because I did a TON of social media marketing and promotion.
*head explodes* *brains in keyboard with chip crumbs*
Uncouple from the Cray-Cray Train
Why did I write this post? …good question. Why DID I write this post? Oh, yeah. Recently, I heard a cool analogy from Andrea Owen that made me stop amidst my ugly crying about what a failure-loser-jerk-horrible-person-fraud I was (am).
I’ll confess. I can be pretty ba—positively ridiculous. Who cares that I wrote 4,000 words and edited 60 pages in one day? My kitchen is a wreck, there’s cat fur on everything, I can’t even FIND my organizer, and…have I washed my hair?
Anyway, Andrea’s analogy stopped me in the spiral of I-So-Suck long enough to breathe. Paraphrasing Andrea, say you hosted a HUGE party at your home with all the food and fun and drinks and games. You wake the next day to what? A mess. What’s the first thing you start doing?
Relish in the JOY of what a fantastical night and how you made marvelous memories for you and all the guests!
I imagine many of you answered ‘cleaning’ (or going back to bed).
All right, cleaning is great, but maybe turn the LIGHTS on first? Yes, maybe we have a mess, but until we shine a light on what’s around us, we have no way to discern what needs to be tossed, washed, saved or stored. Too many of us have on the rubber gloves and are cleaning away…in the dark.
As long as we are moving, we’re fine. Yet, we are anything BUT fine.
This is why I’d like to introduce you to my new way of coping in a healthier way. I’m calling it WTH therapy.
Just Ask, W.T.H.?
Since overachieving and being busy has been our go-to for so long, many of us spiral into self-hate and feeling like a fraud if we don’t ‘have it all together’ (whatever that means). Sometimes, organizing, working, writing, cleaning, learning Swahili while folding socks is the drug of choice that calms us (numbs us). Yet, all this hustle is simply masking what’s causing such unease.
Thus, I challenge all of us to stop, drop and ask W.T.H.?
What am I really feeling?
Think about why X seems like such a priority, disaster, setback, etc.
Have a good laugh, cry, or fit.
You’re NOT a Fraud, You Are HUMAN
Crazy, right? Humans are imperfect and surrounded by other humans who are ALSO imperfect. We mess up. There is no way we can do ALL the things. We have to choose or we will drive ourselves and everyone around us insane. Besides, when everything is important, nothing is.
Many of us over-achievers have to let go of some deeply ingrained cray-cray.
First, numbing only works so long. Like any drug, we’ll require increasing doses to maintain the numb. We grow so accustomed to ‘achieving’ that we no longer even feel any kind of high because we’re onto the next thing.
Eventually we burn out. Because we’re ‘crushing goals’ for the wrong reasons, our accomplishments won’t bring us joy. Why? Because joy was never the goal.
Avoiding pain and seeking joy are two completely different goals.
We’re feeling like a fraud because we keep setting a standard we can never reach (or if we DO reach it, then it was a fluke so notch that baby HIGHER).
This means we lose before we even start. The hard part of all this is realizing we can change by being more intentional and slowing down. Perhaps work, achieving, ‘keeping it all together’ has gotten out of hand, exacerbated when life is falling apart.
But, sometimes it’s better to let ‘whatever’ fall apart. Maybe it’s time it does. Perhaps X keeps falling to pieces because it’s dead and we’re unwilling to face we’re holding onto something that died a long time ago (like a friendship, family relationships, a business, that first novel, etc.).
Maybe we are, maybe we aren’t. Thing is, we won’t know unless we let go.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Are you ridiculously hard on yourself? If you stopped to really ponder the standard you hold yourself to, what would it look like? *Release the Kraken!*
Have you used work, achievement, To Do Lists, cleaning, volunteering as a way to distract from pain you have NO idea how to feel, let alone face?
Yesterday, I finally fell apart on the phone with a long-time friend. In my defense, it was completely Jay’s fault. He said something like, “Hey, how’s it going?”
Eventually, Jay talked me off the ledge and got me to fess up. I said I felt like the people in Joplin, Missouri after that big tornado in 2011 that leveled the city—just shellshocked, ears ringing, unsure if I was injured, with no idea what to feel first, where to begin, what to do.
My head was chaos with so much I’d stuffed down over the past few years. Since I hadn’t said them all aloud, confessed them to anyone fully… I was imploding.
My inner critic was getting louder and louder with nonsense like, ‘Sure, you cleaned the kitchen, but what about the BATHROOM? How can you write novels when you can’t even find the bottom of your CLOSET?’
Yeah, that’s SUPER helpful *rolls eyes*.
My inner critic was also distracting me with dusty baseboards when I REALLY needed to grieve some pretty HORRIBLE events our family has endured (including, but not limited to, now FIFTEEN deaths in FIVE years).
Perhaps there were some BIGGER issues to face than dusty baseboards?
Do you use achievement, perfectionism, goals, business to hide and numb? Is it getting harder and harder to please, appease or even silence that inner critic? Do you have a hard time accepting a compliment, enjoying a good moment, embracing an achievement? Struggle with feeling you’re a fraud?
When others try to help, are you terrified to let them? OR—HORRORS—ASK?
I’m the first to move heaven and earth to help anyone anytime, but am terrified of asking for help. Seriously, this is me…
Hey! I’m a work in progress, too!
I love hearing from you!
What do you WIN? For the month of JUNE, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).