A professor from my master’s program died last week. He was one of my faves who taught me the most. One of the first things he said to me – and ours was a program that met both in the classroom, and in the bar, so I can’t be sure in which setting we were – but he told me that I WAS a writer. I wasn’t attempting to be a writer, I wasn’t learning to be a writer, I wasn’t going to be a writer after a prescribed amount of time or published works. I just was, in fact, a writer. At the time this was mind blowing because, sure, I’d written a blog for a couple of years. And yes, I had a teensy following. But a blog and a teensy following do not a writer make – at least I didn’t think so. I was there, I was in the MFA program to become a writer. He wasn’t having it and he told me to knock it off. “You’re a writer,” he said, simply. Then he started critiquing my work like we were peers.
Let me paint you a picture of this man before I move on. He lived in Copenhagen but was originally from Queens. He wrote 30+ books, smoked, drank, laughed, was smiling most of the time, in a button-down shirt open to the middle of his chest, sunglasses hanging from the top button, and he always had a mischievous twinkle in his eye. Like he knew something and so wanted to let you in on it, but also knew you had to figure it out on your own. He was 70 when I met him, 77 when he died.
Imposter syndrome is not a foreign concept for me. Most women I know feel this at some point or another. Applying for jobs we feel we have no business applying for, doing jobs for which we have no idea why we were hired, managing families, working our marriages, there are so many aspects of our lives that feel so far beyond what we think we’re capable of. Blame self-esteem, cultural expectations, or media in any one of its forms. So the idea of being a writer with nothing to back it up felt cocky and presumptuous.
2021 has been really good to my husband and I. We’ve worked hard, we’ve had great luck, and we’ve crossed some milestones that felt miles away just six months ago. I knew it was going to be a good year when it started. I find myself basking in this feeling of sheer wonder at where we find ourselves. Asking “how did we get here,” but in a good way. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t perceived failures left and right. I mean, to be clear, things are going great but there is a lot of sh-t bringing me down. Especially recently.
I’m not wallowing by any means. But I’m frustrated. Work fires that are out of my control but for which I’m responsible to clean up. Inability to sit my ass down to write (despite my mind going wild with great book ideas). Challenges with trying to get fit and lose weight. This week these things, these teensy little things, overwhelmed me and cast a shadow on all of the good with which we’ve been blessed. I hit a wall. My stress level skyrocketed, I decided that logically the only way to properly deal was to eat everything in sight, and I started getting terrible headaches – the stress manifesting into real actual pain. I was sitting in traffic last night, my headache was so bad it was making me nauseous and carsick, and I was wondering if I shouldn’t bail on dinner with my girlfriends and go home to bed while also wondering if I’d need to pull over to be sick. But I didn’t want to go home. I convinced myself that a glass of wine, and food, and girlfriends were likely my best bet at feeling better.
My girlfriends and I all go to therapy. And one of my favorite things is hearing their revelations and then reflecting on them in the context of my own life. Gathering those little nuggets of knowledge and introspection and applying it as needed and where it makes sense. One of my girlfriends was talking about how she has coped with the past year, and COVID, and how the ways she handled it all did the exact opposite of what she intended. Her new plan is to do everything she can to keep herself happy, knowing her husband and kids will follow her lead. My other girlfriend was talking about how she’s really trying to shift her perspective, to see things differently than where her brain first takes her. I was listening to this wise and thoughtful discussion, head still pounding, thinking about a meeting scheduled to take place this morning. One I’ve been dreading. The third such meeting in the past week and a half. And thinking about the fact that I’m on WW (again) and I haven’t tracked at all this week. And that I still haven’t written down my newest book idea. And that I have to get out of town. And that I have vacations coming up for which I have no idea what to wear, because, see previous sentence about WW. And while I listened to my enlightened and wicked smart girlfriends, these frustrations just continued to simmer under the surface. I was hearing them but not able to get past my feelings of inadequacy and irritation.
On my drive home I was thinking about how happy and excited we’ve been this year but how f-cking frustrated I’ve felt over the past couple of weeks. I got home, had to work to prep for this morning’s meeting, went to bed, woke up, started work early to continue prepping, found out ten minutes before the meeting that half of our deck had incorrect data and had to be tossed, and Lord have mercy I was at the end of my rope.
Then – as per yoosh – I killed the meeting. Because here’s the thing. I am a client whisperer. It’s what I do. I don’t try to appease clients, I don’t learn how to smooth things over, I don’t attempt to make people like me. I am and do all of those things – it’s part of who I am. There is no imposter syndrome. There is no insecurity. When I get on the call, when I get to the meeting, I am baller at what I do.
I just tend to forget this. A lot.
Post-meeting, after a couple of deep breaths because thank Jesus that’s over, I started thinking about all of the things with which I’m currently struggling. And I realized something important (and probably super obvious – I get it – bear with me). The things that have me most frustrated are all about trying to be something. Not simply being those things. I’m trying to be thinner (and let’s be clear – I’ve been trying this for decades in one way or another), I’m trying to be a certain kind of employee, I’m trying to be a certain kind of wife and a certain kind of mom, I’m trying to be a certain kind of writer, I’m trying to be a bunch of bullshit and all of that trying is not making me better or happier or more content. It’s making me frustrated and ornery and tired and want to free-base Starbucks and candy.
And, yes, I know what you’re thinking. ‘Wait, Carrie, isn’t that what The Secret is all about and haven’t you expounded on how amazing The Secret is for years and years?’ Why yes, dear reader, I have. And you’re right. Instead of spending all of the time struggling for something, we’re to behave as if we already have it, as if we’ve already reached the destination, and the Universe will react accordingly. YES! Of course! But that’s hard to remember as we crawl out of COVID and through this world of media-heavy images that make us feel like the struggle is necessary to be who we want to be. The struggle might be real, but we don’t have to sit in the struggle. Which is exactly what I’ve been doing of late.
So, friends, I’m rolling into Friday and the weekend with a shift in perspective. I’m done with the trying. It’s exhausting and, frankly, I’m not sure the constant trying gets me anywhere or, let’s take it a step further, ever has. It’s time to be the things I know, deep down, I already am. I’m fit, I’m healthy, I’m a writer, I’m able to go on vacation at any weight and feel like a rock star, I’m the best wife for my husband and the best second mom to my girls – I am these things as long as I remember to be these things instead of spending all of my energy and focus trying to be these things.
And now, seven years after my professor tried to get me to see what I already am, I feel like he’s somewhere out there nodding his head and thinking ‘now you get it.’