What I know for certain (hint: not much)

cactus in the desert
photo via freeimages.com

 

After 31 years on this Earth, there’s one thing I’ve come to know for certain: I don’t know what I’m doing.

On paper, I‘m accomplished. Over the past 10 years, I’ve managed to shamble together a collection of experiences and titles that — on the surface — define me, creating a semblance of success. I graduated from college, found a job in my desired field, got married, bought a house, switched careers. I fill the roles of daughter, sister, aunt, wife, employee, colleague, confidante, friend. Yet behind these appointed titles lies a vague notion of who I am and what I aspire to be.

I was actually proud of myself. I went to college with a clear idea of what I wanted to do, thanks to the years spent on my high school’s newspaper staff. At orientation, I immediately enrolled in my desired program—professional writing—and bypassed common freshman courses (I still haven’t needed calculus). I got a job at the university’s paper, then an internship at the university press. I graduated, found a new internship, eventually got hired, and later promoted. I was developing a traditional career path, climbing the ladder by following the formula established by so many before me.

Yet after a few years, the doubt began to creep in. Is this really what I wanted? Did I make the right choice? How was I supposed to know at 18 what I wanted to do with the REST OF MY LIFE when I couldn’t even drive a car? (Fun fact: I didn’t get my license until I was almost 23.) I always expected my teen angst to subside after high school—and though in some ways I grew more comfortable in my own skin, for the most part, the challenges I faced then just took different forms in adulthood, and I learned to live with them.

A shift in careers plunged these doubts to new depths. I developed what I know now as “imposter syndrome”—essentially, the feeling that I was not deserving of this new title. “Fake it ’til you make it” became my mantra, but I constantly worried that I’d be discovered as a fraud—that someone would realize they’d made a terrible mistake in choosing me for the job.

Feeling scared and unworthy all of the time can be pretty draining. I carried those doubts around with me like a 50-lb backpack—an unnecessary accessory, reminding me of its presence with every step. I started to withdraw from those around me—I assumed everyone wanted me to fail, so why waste the effort fostering those relationships? I bailed on plans with friends. I found new reasons to nag my husband. I didn’t think I could separate myself from the weight.

The thing is, all of my doubts were self inflicted. My fear of failing led me to second guess myself, causing others to do so, as well. I was fulfilling a prophecy that only I believed in.

I realized this: no one has all of the answers. There’s always going to be someone out there who’s smarter, funnier, kinder, more motivated, or better suited to the work than you (unless you’re Jennifer Lawrence). It can be defeating, or it can be freeing, and it’s a choice that has to be made every single day.

I don’t know what I’m doing, but that’s OK. Neither does anyone else. We’ll learn from each other. The hard part is getting up and deciding to do the work.

Maybe “fake it ’til you make it” really does work, after all?

This article was originally published on Medium