“I’m really an artist,” he stated, “I’m just getting my PhD in developmental economics on the side.”
Over a year ago, I was on a date with a man I could best describe as “that guy who has one too many of his shirt buttons undone,” as he made this declaration to me. At the time, it made me roll my eyes at its perfect combination of inflated millennial confidence and stereotypical D.C. arrogance. I, on the other hand, had it right. I was a government contractor, but I liked to write on the side. I was humble. I wasn’t going to make some big proclamation that I was a writer and risk sounding like some self-important asshole.
In fact, I was probably going to skirt around the fact that I like to write at all. And, if someone happened to come across something I had written and informed me they had read it, I’d solve this unfortunate mishap with a quick, sheepish giggle and switch the conversation to the weather. If they told me they had liked it, well, then, that could only be explained as a genuine stroke of luck. Maybe they had been bored that day and reading all sorts of articles and got mine confused with another. Or, maybe they were somehow really a distant blood relative and, therefore, had to pretend they liked it. In fact, I’ve been so self-effacing with my writing that I often go back and forth on whether I want to post my blogs under my actual name and take true ownership for my work, or under a safe pseudonym where I can keep pretending like I don’t have all of these thoughts and feelings out there in the wild.
There has always been a deep desire in my soul to write and share my words with an audience. However, at the same time, the pull to retreat and hide those raw pieces of prose is strong and riddled in self-doubt. I learned the term “impostor syndrome” when I was reading Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, when she described a speech a woman had given at her graduation:
“She explained that many people, but especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made. Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are—impostors with limited skills or abilities.”
So, there I was on this date, barely able to express an interest in writing, while Mr. Exposed Chest could so assuredly state that he not only liked art, but also that he was an artist.
Luckily for me, we are a communal species, and when you’re stuck in the muck of feeling like an impostor, there are always the people who form your community present and ready to convince you otherwise. A great friend recently sent me a note with a Gloria Steinem quote that she explained, “is just for you.” The quote read: “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”
There are few things that can calm me and make me feel both connected to my own heart and to the circulatory system of the world quite the way writing can. Time I spend writing is always precious time to me, whether it be a blog or a letter or in a journal. It centers me. It heals me. It fuels my love and my compassion and my drive for something greater for all peoples.
I have another wonderful pal in my supportive community fabric with whom I chat frequently. Together, we pour out our hopes and dreams, our woes and fears, knowing that we are spiritually in tune enough with each other to truly see and reflect back the potential of our places in this life. In a recent chat, I once again expressed to my friend my longing to become an actual writer. This confession eventually led back to one of our simple, but powerful conclusions for how we both shall grow in our lives.
“I guess Nike is right,” I said, “I just have to follow its mantra. Just do it.”
“Exactly,” she knowingly replied, “They fucking nailed that.”
I recently checked in on how the man from my past date is doing. He seems to be selling a lot of paintings and filling plenty of galleries with his art. He’s really an artist. And it started with him saying so.
So, last night, I braved the southern-reaching, bone-chilling winds of the approaching historic northeast blizzard to sit in my favorite D.C. coffeehouse and just do it. I’m not an impostor. I’m really a writer.
We’re not impostors. We’re really everything we could ever want to be.