The title comes from a song called “Clarity” by Andy Mineo. I’ve had it on repeat since it dropped, and while that’s not even close to the best, most thought provoking line in the song, it’s something that’s been on my mind.
All my heroes are frauds, just like me.
I haven’t been writing lately because I’ve had too much on my plate. My head has been a jumbled wreck on nonsense and doubts and insecurities. I thought I had silenced that voice inside of me that tells me I’m not good enough. But lately it’s been telling me that I’m a fake. A poser. A fraud.
In psychology, we call this “imposter syndrome.” That feeling that you’re a fake in whatever you do. The fear that someone will expose you and reveal just how little you know. It’s the worry that you don’t deserve to be where you are. So much of it comes from looking around you at people who all seem to know exactly what they’re doing. Lately, I haven’t been able to feel like I belong anywhere.
I’m in a scholars program at my school for students from low income and under-represented families who want to go to grad school. I’m currently doing research on Latinos with mental illness in the prison system. I’m looking into grad schools and preparing to take the GRE. There is so much I need to do. I’m constantly playing email tag with prisons. I have a million and a half IRB proposals to do, consent forms to write, ID’s to photocopy, and approval letters to get. My vocabulary needs to improve for the exam and I need to brush up on my math and statistical knowledge. My faculty mentor tells me we’re going to use SPSS to do a logistical regression to map out the data. I barely know what this means. Last week I had my first panic attack in over a year and a half and almost quit the whole thing. Everyone else in the program knows what they’re doing. The directors tell me that’s not true. “No one knows what they’re doing.” They tell me. But I’m the only one on the verge of tears after walking out of class.
I feel like a fake.
At work, I’m a bike technician. I build and sell bikes. However, I learned this skill a month ago. Customers come in and they tell me they need their bike fixed. Sure, I can assemble a bike but I have no idea how to spot what’s wrong with one or how to check one in or how long it’s going to take to fix it. People call and want to know what the difference is between a road bike and a hybrid. I think the wheel is just smaller but I can’t explain that in fancy terms. I want to tell them that Google knows more than me. Customers are upset because I give them blank stares and can’t answer their questions. I need help. My coworkers all understand things about bikes that I cannot comprehend. I just started at this position but I feel like I’m expected to know everything.
I’m a fake.
At church, I sit in the pews and listen to the sermon. The people around me are engaged; taking notes, and flipping around in their seat back Bibles to the different passages. They sing along during worship. They all know something about God that I don’t. This makes sense to them. Somehow. This ancient scripture filled with artistic language and bizarre concepts; this makes sense. The idea of God is real for them even though it sounds crazy to talk about. These people are real Christians. But I haven’t read a Bible verse in months. Every time I open that book I find myself screaming at it. Why does everything have to be so hard? Everyone around me has Christmas Gift Faith; perfectly wrapped and tied together with a bow on the top. Nothing is out of sorts. Why can’t I have that? I go to church every Sunday but mostly have no idea what the hell is going on. From the outside I look like I know but I don’t. I’m a fake Christian.
I’m such a fake.
On the internet I’m a mental health advocate. Self-care! Go to therapy! I like all those inspirational quotes. But maybe I don’t talk about it as much as I should. Other people have better insight and they do a better job at being an advocate. I didn’t mention Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain on Twitter. I didn’t even know who he was until he died. Everyone is talking about mental health now. Where is my opinion? I tell my friends to slow down; quit that job if you need to, take some time out for yourself, say no to things. This all coming from the woman who works two jobs, is taking a summer class, and participating in rigorous research. I have eaten two meals in the past three days. I only drink coffee when I know my body needs water. I cried at work out of pure exhaustion. I’m so burnt out. Why can I only tell other people how to take care of themselves but can’t seem to do it myself? I’m not a real mental health advocate.
I’m a fake.
I talk feminism up all the time. I encourage girls to be their own selves and be who they want to be. It breaks my heart when women think that they are defined by men. Women spend so much time chasing after people who don’t even care enough to give them the time of day. The feminists I see around me are so strong; they don’t care what guys have to say about them. They are strong. Courageous. They are unafraid of backlash. They are unapologetically themselves. But then there are people who don’t like my views; and I’m so afraid they’re going to find out the truth about me. They’re going to find out that I cried over a boy the other day. They’re going to rat me out as someone who wants to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t want that back. They’re going to tell me what I tell myself a million times a day. “That’s not very feminist of you.” I want attention from men just for kicks and to maybe to feel better about myself. I need validation. I need romantic love. Most days I go against everything I claim to believe about feminism. I’m not even a real feminist.
I’m a fake.
But today I met with a woman about research and she told me something that I needed to hear. She said, “Own that you don’t know. Say that you don’t know and say it proudly. Maybe you might give other people the courage to say they don’t know either. And don’t make yourself small. Make yourself big.”
People keep telling me that it’s okay to not know. People keep telling me that everyone is faking it just like me, but I never see it. I feel like I’m the only one crying myself to sleep at night over stress. I think I’m the only one who can’t figure out research proposals. I feel like I’m the only one just going through the motions and not really understanding what’s going on.
But I’m not. I bet you probably are too. Right? You’re probably lost and confused about something. You’ve probably felt like a fake at some point. And all those people you look up to and admire for having it all together? They probably don’t. I’m not even saying anything new. I hear that all the time but somehow it never really sank in. It still hasn’t. I’ve never felt so out of place before. But I can’t be the only transfer student who feels like a freshman trying to assimilate all over again. I’m not the only first generation student, or first person to attempt grad school in a family. I know all my heroes are faking it too. My brother looks like he’s figured out how to be the perfect husband; I’m sure he feels like a fake. My best friend can work SPSS like a pro but she couldn’t always. I know Sarah Bessey, my favorite author, struggles to write. I’m sure my pastor doubts his ability to lead a church. My favorite dancers don’t know how to get certain moves. The list goes on forever.
So yeah. I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. And the longer I live, the more I realize that’s okay. As much as my perfectionist attitude tries to convince me otherwise, it really is okay. I’m trying my hardest to live in a very complicated world. Sometimes my actions and beliefs don’t line up. Sometimes I have to throw out beliefs I thought were true and try again. Sometime I will mess up and make mistakes. Sometimes I will be wrong. But I cannot be expected to be the expert on everything. The only person who expects me to be, is me. Basically, I’m outting myself as a fake writer, fake photographer, fake feminist, fake baseball fan, fake student, fake employee, fake theologian, fake poet; just overall, an imposter. And that’s perfectly fine.
I don’t want to be afraid to say I don’t know. So if I look like I’ve got it all figured out, I can assure you, I’m screaming internally always. And I’m pretty sure you are too.