The person I want to be smiles at everyone, even strangers; is a great teacher who has wonderful rapport with her students and is able to inspire them to do great things; influences people to do the right thing even when it hurts; doesn't care about fashion but always looks put together; has a wonderful relationship with her daughter; mentors young people, who respect and admire her; works fearlessly to make the world a better place; makes the people around her feel happy and enthusiastic; eats right and exercises; and is generally a superlative, super-human type of person.
Have you ever done that? Wrote down the qualities you wish you had? Have you ever looked at someone and said to yourself, "Why can't that be me?"
Here are some words of advice from the great British writer and satirist Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."
Well, that's a a real letdown, isn't it? Why can't I be that other person I admire? Am I really trapped in this body, in this brain? Am I really fated to be the loser that I already am?
No, you're not. Notice Wilde said to be yourself; he didn't say not to imagine yourself as someone else.
So here's my challenge--Imagine yourself as the best version of you. Pretend to be the person you want to be.
Let me give you an example. I work as a teacher, but inside, I don't feel like I am a teacher. Teachers are these people who are in charge, in control. Teachers know what they are talking about and are able to bring out the best in their students. They inspire. They are experts in their field. Well, guess what? I'm not any of those things, or at the least, I don't feel like I am. That's why I wrote that I work as a teacher, not that I am a teacher.
So since I don't feel like I am this paradigm of teacherliness, what can I do? Quit my job? No, I have to make a living. Admit to my students that I am an imposter who doesn't know what she's talking about? Well, maybe, but I don't want to make them lose their respect for me. So what can I do?
I can pretend to be a great teacher. I can think to myself, "Well, what would a great teacher do in this situation?" And then I can do whatever I think a great teacher would do.
Yes, that's the secret. Pretend to be
the person you want to be.
Let me give you another example.
Recently I was at an event put on by an organization I am affiliated with called Dallas Interfaith Power and Light. It was a film screening I had helped organize, and about 65 people showed up. When I got there, I saw people milling around, waiting for the film to start. Well, I felt a bit less than confident. I didn't know most of the other people there, and the people I did know were busy talking to other people. I could have found a seat and hid my face in the screen of my phone. But I decided, no, that is not what a representative of this organization should do. So instead, I decided to mingle. I walked up to a guy I didn't know and started talking to him. I asked him what had inspired him to come to the event. I asked him what kind of work he did. I started a conversation. And the thing that allowed me to break out of my shell and take a chance is that I imagined what a true advocate and exemplary representative of Dallas IPL would do, and I did that.
This technique requires you to don a mask. The mask is made of up the characteristics of the personality you want to assume. Want to be class president? Imagine what a class president would do, would sound like, would look like, and do those things. Want to attract girls? Think about what an attractive guy (or girl) would do, what he would say, what he would look like, and do those things. Want to be an ace student? Think about what an A+ student would do, would sound like, would look like, and do those things. Yes, that's the secret. Pretend to be the person you want to be.
Don't think it works? Don't believe me? This post is partially inspired by a TED talk by Amy Cuddy, who describes how she managed to become a college student even though she knew she didn't belong. Her advice: fake it until you become it. If you do nothing else, please watch this video. It will definitely give you a different view on life and gift with you some techniques to ramp up your brain chemistry.
So that's my advice. Fake it until you are it. Be your best you--the best you that lives in your imagination.
If this post made you think, inspired you, or caused you to wet your pants, please pass it along (the ideas, not your smelly underwear)...Let your friends know by using the buttons below to "like" it or tweet it. And thanks for reading!
You don't know what you're doing. You don't belong here. You're not good enough. Look at the people around you with their nice haircuts and their nice clothes, or maybe some of them don't have nice clothes or nice haircuts. But it doesn't matter cause they know what they're doing. It doesn't matter if some of them say stupid things or do really badly in school or get into fights all the time. It doesn't matter if they have been arrested and if you know they are alcoholics or sluts or drug addicts because the truth is that they get it and you don't! Face it. You don't belong here. What are you doing? You are clueless!
Does this voice sound familiar to you? Okay, so maybe the little demon in your head telling you these things isn't as vicious as this one, but maybe part of it does resonate with you. Well, you're not alone. In fact, there's a name for this little voice. It's called the imposter syndrome.
See that handsome guy who gets good grades and is an ace athlete? I bet he suffers from imposter syndrome. See that beautiful girl with straight A's who is the student council president? Yep, I bet she feels like an imposter too.
That little italicized paragraph at the top--well, that's what my demon voice sounds like. It has ranted at me like that through most of my life. See, I was a good student, a really good student (at least in comparison to my peers). I got A's all through high school (except for one B in theater class because I was too shy and scared to be in the school play). I was the valedictorian of my senior class and the captain of my state-winning academic team. I graduated from college summa cum laude (that means I graduated with a 4.0, 4 years of A's in every class). I earned an MA in English and an MEd in library science. So with this substantial, impressive background, you'd think that I would be some sort of super-confident blonde girl who flipped her hair and had beautiful fingernails.
Well, no, that's not me at all. I still have feelings of doubt, and it's usually when I'm surrounded by my peers (i.e. other adults whom I perceive to be more "in the know" than I am). You probably get that feeling, too. In fact, I think most people do.
See that handsome guy who gets good grades and is an ace athlete? I bet he suffers from imposter syndrome. See that beautiful girl with straight A's who is the student council president? Yep, I bet she feels like an imposter too. The truth is that when you look at successful people around you and think they are super-competent, super-confident people, you're probably wrong. They probably feel as much like a schmuck as you do.
So what can you do when you feel like an imposter? I've listed some resources below, and along with that, I'll tell you what's worked for me--serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that regulates your mood--not enough of it, and you suffer from feelings of self worthlessness and depression. Well, I truly think that my brain is screwed up (a lot of writers have this problem), so I've learned to balance my brain chemistry with pharmaceutical remedies. Talk to your doctor about 5HTP, but more importantly, check out these resources below:
"Imposter Syndrome"--Wikipedia gives a guick and dirty understanding of imposter syndrome.
"The Imposter Syndrome"--Caltech gives a more comprehensive guide to imposter syndrome than does Wikipedia.
"Imposter Syndrome"--Geek Feminism Wiki targets women specifically, explaining how imposter syndrome manifests itself and what you can do to minimize its effects.
"21 Proven Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome"--Exactly as the title suggests, the article gives twenty-one tips for overcoming imposter syndrome. It also quotes and refers to famous people who suffer the affliction.
"The Imposter Syndrome: Mastering the Art of Pretending"--The author gives a personal account of her struggle to overcome imposter syndrome in the male-dominated world of computer programming and offers three pieces of advice she wishes she'd known when she was younger.
"Overcome the Imposter Syndrome"--Dr. Valerie Young blogs about imposter syndrome and wants you to buy her book about it. (Yeah, I didn't buy the book either and don't plan to.)
In my next blog piece, I'm going to talk about faking competence, for your own sake, not for anyone else's. In the mean time, remember that even the best of us have had the same self-defeating thoughts you've had. You're not alone.
If you're hip to this jive (translation--if you liked this post), please click the "like" and "tweet" buttons below to spread the word. Thanks, daddy-o. (Okay, so I didn't grow up in the 50's or 60's and don't actually talk this way...just so you know.)
Jeez, Cheryl, stop with the kind words already. Is that really the title you want to use?
Yes, actually it is. It's true--nobody cares about you. And if that's what you suspect during your moodier days, then, congratulations, you're right!
So you're saying no one cares about me?
Yes, that's what I'm saying. You are alone in this world. So give in to to the unhappiness, the feelings of self worthlessness, the doldrums of depression. Soak it all up and wallow in it, buddy!
Wow--Way to make a person feel better, Cheryl. Jeez.
Okay, so I wasn't serious about that last part. I don't want you to get depressed about the fact that no one cares about you.
Well, you sounded pretty serious to me. That was mean.
Besides, it's not true that no one cares about me. My mom cares about me! And my family cares about me! And so do my friends, so there! You're wrong, meanie pants!
Oh, so someone does care about you. In fact, several someones care about you. Yeah, you're right. When I say that no one cares about you, it is a bit of hyperbole (you know, that fancy literary term for exaggeration). The truth is that some people do care about you. Think about how many "friends" you have on Facebook. Let's be generous and say that not only do your family and friends care about you but that many acquaintances care about you too. Let's say that as many as 1000 people care very deeply about you and say a little prayer every day that you will have a super-fantastic, awesomely superlative day!
Okay, yeah, let's say that. 1000 people. Well, that may be a bit too many. I mean, I don't even have that many "friends" on Facebook.
Doesn't matter. I'm just putting a big number out there. So you think, then, that 1000 people is a big number of people to care about you, right?
Yeah, it sounds pretty nice.
Good. But let's compare that to the number of people on the planet. There are approximately 7 billion people on the planet, and by the time you read this post, there could be as many as 9 billion people alive on Earth. So if 1000 of those people care deeply about you, then that means approximately one out of every 7 million people on Earth cares about you, or approximately 0.0000001% of the total human population, a statistically insignificant number.*
Go out there and embrace your vulnerability, your
ridiculousness, your weirdness, the things that make you
special, the things that make you unique.
Okay, sourpuss, back to the bad news, then. Gee, thanks.
No, but don't forget about the second part of my title--"and that's a good thing." It's actually really great that so few people really care about you. It means you can make lots of mistakes and very few people will care about it. You can screw up big time, and the world will glance over you like you're a speck on the sidewalk.
Hmm...I see where you're going with this. So I can do all kinds of crazy things my teachers and my parents tell me not to do, and no one will even notice. Okay, then, bring out the drinking and driving, the cocaine by the bootful, the promiscuous behavior! Great! I'm on it!
Actually, I didn't mean to go that far because you have to remember that there are consequences to your behavior, you know, stuff like wrapping yourself around a tree, ending up in rehab or with the inside of your nose rotted out, getting pregnant or getting a disease that makes your insides rot--you know, the usual things.
So what you're saying is that there are not many people who care about me so I can do all kinds of things people tell me not to do, but I shouldn't do them because they're bad. You're bumming me out again, Cheryl! This seems to be a lose-lose situation. Where's the silver lining? Come on, I need a silver lining!
Right. There is a silver lining. And it's this: since very few people care about you or pay any attention to what you're doing, you have the freedom to be bold and take risks. Sing a song at the talent show. Apply to Harvard University. Wink and smile at that boy or girl you like. Take chances! Don't let your fears about what other people think stop you from doing what you want to do!
Yeah, but what if I screw up and make an idiot of myself? I mean, what if I forget the words on the stage and everyone laughs at me. What if Harvard rejects me? What if that person I like looks at me like I'm a mangy gerbil?
Well, all those things are possible. That's why they're risks. But here's the thing--just because other people might think you're a weirdo shouldn't stop you from doing the things you really want to do. Besides, people have short memories these days. There's a different "big" story of people humiliating themselves almost every week. Do you remember the kid who did that stupid thing earlier this year that no one would shut up about? Maybe his pants fell off during gym class or she farted really loudly during a speech? Well, you had probably forgotten about those incidents, and if that person was smart, he or she probably made a joke about it anyway.
After all, do you remember Tonya Harding? No? Never heard of her? Back in the 90's she was in the headlines for months when she was accused of having an assailant attack her rival ice skater, Nancy Kerrigan, before the Olympics. It was a huge story, but did you know about it? Probably not. And even if you did, it probably didn't make a big impression on you.
The point is that people forget about the missteps and the bloopers, the mistakes and the gaffes and humiliations. So don't let the chance of screwing up stop you. Don't wrap yourself in a cocoon of safety where nothing ever happens and you never accomplish anything. You might make yourself safe, but think what a boring life that would be.
Instead, go out there and embrace your vulnerability, your ridiculousness, your weirdness, the things that make you special, the things that make you unique. Be yourself, and carpe the heck out of the diem, my friend!
PS--Making mistakes is good for you. Don't believe me? Read these articles I found doing a simple Google search**:
7 Reasons Why Not Making Mistakes is the Biggest Mistake--This inspirational article offers seven reasons you should embrace mistakes.
Why Making Mistakes Is Good For You--This article is written for men but offers great insights to anyone, whether you're a man, woman, child, or bigender!
Why Failure is Good for Success--This article offers reasons why failure is good for both businesses and individuals.
Failure is Good--This article from Psychology Today looks at how failure is an innate part of the human condition.
Go out and do your own web search for more information. And remember--Fail, fail, fail, make as many mistakes as you reasonably can without killing or maiming yourself or someone else!
*If I got the math wrong, please leave a comment and let me know. When I tried this calculation on my calculator, I got a weird number ending in an e, whatever that means.
**If any of these links are broken (not working) by the time you get to this article, please leave a message in the comments. Thanks! :-)
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People who knew me back in the old-time days when I was a teenager are probably rolling their eyes and saying "Duh!" as they read this because it was oh-so-obvious that I was a dork.
Have you ever shoved the boy or girl you liked out of the way while screaming at him or her? Well, I did. Have you ever gotten hit in the head by a rogue basketball and just sat there pretending nothing happened while everyone around you stared at you like you were nuts? Yep, I did that, too.
So, yesiree, I was quite the awkward weirdo when I was a teen.
I went to a tiny little school for all my thirteen years (I'm counting kindergarten) of public school learnin'. There were only 30 or so kids in my graduating class. So, pretty small, right? You'd think, then, that it would have been easy to make your voice heard, to stand out, to get to know pretty much 100% of the student population. I guess it was for other people, but for me, not so much.
I had two things working against me--1. I was very very very very (cubed) shy and 2. I was academically inclined. You can interpret that as "awkward nerd" or "dork." I wasn't one of those cool nerds like Steve Jobs. Think closer to Steve Urkel, but a lot less outgoing. I was a doormat. I was a mouse. I disappeared when I entered a room.
It wasn't something that suddenly struck me during puberty, not like pimples and other embarrassing stuff better left unmentioned. I had been as timid as a turtle for as long as I could remember. When I was a little kid, I used to hide behind my mom's chair when she went to visit the neighbors. I can remember in elementary school sitting on the see-saw by myself wishing oh-so-hard that I had a friend, any friend, just another body to take up space and make me look less alone (and less dorky).
But here's the thing--it gets better. You've probably heard that before, and I know it seems like it's just something adults say to make teens feel better, but no, I'm being honest to God with you--it does get better.
And then in junior high (that's what we called it in the olden days), I blossomed into exactly the same thing I was before--a wimp, a dork, a nerd. I used to ride the bus to and from school, and I was terrified of the windows next to each seat. They were constantly mocking me with their glassy texture. No, not really. I was actually terrified of them because I didn't know how to close them, and I was afraid someone would find out and make fun of me. To close one, you had to press your fingers on either side to release the catches so that you could then push it up or down. I tried to press on them, but they were a bit stubborn and hard to move, so I gave up. Yes, I was a giver-upper. People would ask me to shut my window because it was raining or whatever, and I would pretend I didn't hear them. One time a girl went through the entire bus, which was mostly empty, and shut all the windows; when she got to me, I just scooted my legs out to the aisle so she could pass by me and close the window while I just kept my nose in a book. I didn't want to even look up. Too embarrassing.
I was SUCH a dork, SUCH a wimp!
I'm not sure how people reacted to me. I don't know what they thought. But I think some of them thought I was a snob. Like, when I was in high school, a friend told me she and another girl were talking about whether or not they should nominate me for student council. My friend said the other girl (one of the popular girls) said she thought I was a snob. A snob?!?! Really??? People interpreted my shyness as snobbery. They thought I was being standoffish because I was arrogant. I guess they didn't get the real reason--that I was just terrified of everyone and everything! And I was even more terrified that everyone would find out and laugh at me.
I was never asked on a date in high school, never asked to a school dance. Boys didn't flirt with me. Boys avoided me like I had the teenage form of cooties. I don't know for sure, but I think they were intimidated by me and put off by my silence, my lack of social skills. I got really good grades in school, and I think they thought I felt superior to them or something. I don't know. All I know is that they didn't give even an inkling that I might be anything close to attractive.
So why am I confessing all this? Is it just to wallow in my miserable memories? Yeah, it is. Misery loves its own company. ;-) No, actually, I am saying this because I know (all adults know) that the teen years are rough, and they're even rougher when you have some burden to carry. For me, it was my shyness and my lack of social skills. They seemed like Mt. Everest and a half standing between me and everything the world had to offer. For you, it may be lack of money or your weird parents or your weird family or weight or academic struggles or drinking or whatever. We all shoulder our own burdens, and when you're a teen (or at least when I was a teen), that burden seems all oppressive, like barbells strapped across your back.
But here's the thing--it gets better. You've probably heard that before, and I know it seems like it's just something adults say to make teens feel better, but no, I'm being honest to God with you--it does get better.
I left my shyness behind. Now people can't get me to shut up. I went out and I sought help for my albatross (if you're familiar with "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner," then you get that allusion, sucka!). I discovered that my brain was the problem, and with a bit of tweaking from meds, now I'm feel free to go out and see what the world has to offer.
Okay, so drugs (the legal kind) may not help everyone. Plus, some people are dead set against them, and sometimes they don't work for teens, sadly enough. :-( But whatever your problem is, you can surpass it. You have to believe in solutions. You have to believe in yourself. You have to know that you will outgrow the teen years eventually, and there is a whole world out there just waiting for you. If you can keep from screwing up too badly in the teen years (you know, doing things like driving drunk, getting hooked on heroine, catching an STD, making babies), then you have a limitless future just waiting for you. And I can't wait to see you there!
I'm including some resources on shyness if you want to check them out. I hope these links are still working when you read this column. If they're not, hit google with your questions, and I'm sure you'll find something worthwhile.
And above all, have a little faith in yourself, my people!
Tips for Overcoming Shyness--This short article includes four easy to apply steps that you can start trying today!
Shyness--This three page article from TeensHealth examines what it means to be shy, strengths of being shy, and what to do if you're one of us shy ones.
5 Ways to Shake Shyness--This article, also from TeensHealth, offers five tips for overcoming (or living with) shyness.
How to Make Friends Easily if You're a Teen--This article is from WikiHow and gives seven tips for making friends if you're shy.
5 Psychology Studies Every Awkward Teenager Should Read--I love this article from Cracked.com. It takes a bit of an irreverent tone toward the subject of shyness (In other words, it is funny and uses language your parents would prefer to shield your eyes from.) as it describes five studies that show the advantages of being shy.
So look over these sites and google for some more, but be careful of your search terms because you could just come up with pages of porn sites (of course, that might not bother some of you). And if you have any other tips or personal stories you'd like to share, leave a comment. I loves me some comments!
Now that you know what a big dork I was (and continue to be), you can let other people know about my social awkwardness as well...and maybe spread the word about shyness and confidence, too. Just click the buttons below to "like" or tweet this post, and thanks for visiting!
Word and Book Lover.