When last we met, I was rebelling.
I naturally gravitated to people who were the absolute opposite of conformist, and I was (and still am) hopelessly attracted to the confidence of free-thinkers and makers, writers, musicians, and philosophers. This rebellion also quite naturally came with the regular use of mind-altering substances (the tamer ones for me, although one became pathological and nearly killed me on multiple occasions). I was crazy. I was loud. I was sometimes mean. I was a party girl. I lacked any shred of self-respect, but I was always right. No matter what I did, no matter how badly I behaved or treated others and myself, if someone didn’t like it they could go fuck themselves. I was practicing being in charge of my own rightness.
This happened from about age 17 to age 30. Not even kidding, that’s how long it took me to become even a shadow of an adult. That’s how long it took me to become my own person to any degree of normalcy. It’s taken me almost 20 more years to genuinely stop caring what my parents think.
You can call it rebellion, but you can also call it growth. I’m deeply ashamed of many things I did back then, but there were positive things that came out of that period that have stayed with me to this day. I’ve found I am a naturally creative person. I no longer believe everything people tell me. I gained an appreciation for music that didn’t necessarily follow metronomes or rules and scratched deep and permanent furrows into my heart and mind. I have a robustly healthy irreverence for authority, and I think critically and deeply about most things.
Upon learning of our similar interests in music, a person I went to high school with idly asked me why we never listened to records together back then. My answer was that I was too stupid to know what was good for me at the time. This is 100% true. I’m now 50, and I finally feel like I might be able to connect with this person I thought was totally beyond my understanding when I was 17. He might still be light years ahead of me. Probably is.
AAaaaand there it is. I knew that if I wrote long enough, my impostor syndrome would rear its ugly head. I’m not cool enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not good enough, I’m too much, I’m not enough. Everyone else has it all together. Everyone around me is right on the edge of finding out that I suck at my job, at art and music, at being a partner, a friend, a dog owner, a runner. I’m barely skating by, always faking it in every aspect of my life and praying like hell that no one finds out. Bla bla bla, cry me a river you loser.
It still comes down to a lack of confidence. To this day, I don’t think I can do anything. If I’m asked a question in front of people, I sometimes can’t even think how to answer correctly, even if I know the answer at any other time under normal circumstances. I’m still terrified of saying and doing the wrong thing. And yet I blunder through life, blind to how other people perceive me, hoping against hope that I don’t appear as inept as I feel. Sometimes I think I come off as cocky or arrogant because I often answer in absolutes to hide my uncertainty. It’s not that I think I know everything, it’s that I’m desperately hoping you’ll believe me.
I sometimes even go so far as to be (internally) critical of other people who say they experience impostor syndrome. I obviously don’t tell them this. It’s alternately a compliment and a criticism to those folks: you can’t possibly have impostor syndrome because you’re so much smarter/better looking/more talented than me. Stop pretending you have impostor syndrome because you’re absolutely perfect the way you are. I have the real impostor syndrome because I’m such a miserable failure. I’m the one who’s afflicted, not you. It’s so pathetic, I know, and so embarrassing to admit and see actually written out like this. I have no excuse for trivializing other people’s fears, and if anything I should know better than most how disheartening those feelings can be. I do empathize deeply with them.
On a rational and superficial level I know that most adults experience impostor syndrome to some degree in some aspect of their lives. I still feel like I’m an impostor at life, period. I also think I know what the solution is. It comes down to two things: living my own life and self-love. I have to stop comparing myself to others, and I have to be nicer to myself, give myself a break for not being perfect. Success is measured by living my best life, not wondering if my life measures up to what everyone else is doing or what others may expect of me.
As a kid, I wasn’t given good tools for negotiating life without being told what to do, how and when. I had to learn on my own that life is messy, there is no instruction manual and no God to give you rules, and that everyone finds their own way to live in the world.
I’m working on it. I’m working on filling in the “X”.