Are you getting ready for college or maybe you're getting ready to get ready for college? Either way, you can learn from someone who's been in the trenches, like my friend and colleague Ali O'Leary, a recent college graduate and aspiring author, who I interviewed for this post. You can read her blog at https://alioleary.wordpress.com/.
Me: Your introduction to college was a bit atypical. Can you tell me about how you decided which college to go to and when you started your college planning?
Ali: Ok, that’s a funny story. I got to April of my senior year and thought, “Hmmm, I should go to college.” I hadn’t applied anywhere. I thought I would start out with a community college, but my parents wanted me to apply to other schools as well. My dad had been supporting this college, Patrick Henry College, for a couple of years and since it was more of a Government degree type school, he didn’t think it would interest me. But he saw that it had a Literature major and, since I’ve always been interested in writing, he thought it would be a good fit. So I applied with one week to spare before the deadline and got in.
If you’re not a math person, don’t do online math classes.
Me: That is a crazy, crazy story! I’ve never heard of anyone going about the college decision making process this way. (not to be insulting, I’m just really impressed.) So were you stressing out about college before you decided what to do?
Ali: Not really, I knew I should go to college, but I wasn’t in any particular rush. I figured if I didn’t get into the fall semester, I could work until it was time to apply for the spring semester.
Me: And did you have a pretty good idea what you wanted to major in before you applied? I mean, did you know it would be English/writing/literature related?
Ali: Yes, I’ve never really been interested in anything else, so it made sense to study something I loved.
Me: So it looks like your dad had a huge influence on your college decision.
Ali: Very much so. I am the quintessential “daddy’s girl” and he’s always been a key voice in most of my major decisions. He knows what I like and don’t like very well, so I can usually count on him being a reliable source of information.
Me: And what was it about Patrick Henry College that attracted you both?
Ali: We saw that it was a classic liberal arts school that focused on a very traditional way of learning: grammar, logic, rhetoric, all that jazz. It also didn’t just focus on the major you went into, but really wanted all of its students to have a well-rounded education so that they’re prepared for any sort of discussion in the real world. We would know at least the foundations of subjects like philosophy, physics, and biology. I’m also a Christian and it is a Christian school, so that appealed to us as well.
I had three months to have a mental breakdown at leaving my family for the first time and to get my stuff ready for dorm life. :)
Me: So what happened after you were accepted?
Ali: They had a distance learning program that I started out with, so I ended up taking 12 credits my first semester to sort of ease into the whole college/distance learning thing.
Me: So you basically did online classes for the first semester, is that right?
Ali: Yes, really for the first two years. We could get our basics pretty much done online. It was a good way to save on costs.
Me: What was online learning like for you as a student?
Ali: I am an introvert, so I really loved being able to have my own schedule and have online discussions, as opposed to a classroom discussion. I do much better when I can write out my thoughts rather than speak them, so I enjoyed that aspect of it. But it was challenging when I had questions, because I could ask the professors, but it was often hard to get across the particular problem I was having, if that makes sense.
Me: Yes, because there are nonverbal clues we give when speaking that don’t come across online. Also, when you’re speaking to someone, you can kind of tell if they’re getting it or not.
Me: Do you have any advice for college students taking online classes?
Ali: Definitely. You get out of it what you put into it. I made an effort to make friends and have “study groups” online and that really helped me learn. I still have some of those friends today. Also, it really helps to have a planner to write down all of the assignments, because oftentimes online classes have more work for you to do to make up for not having class discussions/assignments.
I was extremely homesick for pretty much the whole first semester on campus.
Me: College was the first time I ever used a planner, and I made GREAT use of it! I planned exactly what work I would do every night and divided up long sections of text (like 100 pages or more) so that I would read just a section each night. I actually ended up planning how many pages and what pages I would read in my planner ahead of time. I personally am not very good at being last minute--too stressful.
So anything else you want to add about taking online class? Did you feel like you were missing out on the “real” college experience?
Ali: Maybe sometimes. Especially once I made friends, I wished we could hang out together, but I never felt like I was gaining a lesser education by doing it online. But again, it depends on how much effort you put into it. And also, if you’re not a math person, don’t do online math classes.
Me: So you did two years of online classes, and then what happened?
Ali: I had three months to have a mental breakdown at leaving my family for the first time and to get my stuff ready for dorm life. :)
I ended up praying a lot and that really helped.
Me: How far away was the school from where your family lived?
Ali: I think it was about 1600 miles?
Me: Ouch!!! And it was your first time away from home?
Ali: Yep! Go big or go home.
Me: What thoughts were running through your mind as you made your preparations?
Ali: They weren’t all bad, I was excited about meeting new people, but mostly I was super concerned about how I was going to handle having classes as well as homework. Which sounds funny, but online learning is basically all homework. Throw in class time and it’s like, freak out!
Me: What was it like when you actually made it to campus?
Ali: The campus itself was beautiful - it’s out in Virginia - and everyone was really friendly. But it was a lot of people and I am really bad at meeting large groups of people. I also didn’t have a roommate because mine called me the day I was leaving and told me she wasn’t going anymore, so it was hard to not have someone to immediately connect with.
Me: Were you homesick, and if so, how did you deal with it?
The more I started talking to people and accepting invitations to hang out, the easier it got.
Ali: I was extremely homesick for pretty much the whole first semester on campus. It was my first time away from home and we had just finished going through some pretty difficult situations in my family, so it was hard to leave right when we were starting to patch things up. I ended up having a lot of panic attacks and I called my parents pretty much every other day. My dad even offered to come and get me, but I really felt like the Lord wanted me to stay there. So I ended up praying a lot and that really helped, plus I also started making friends with my suitemates and they made sure I saw the light of day every now and then. The more I started talking to people and accepting invitations to hang out, the easier it got.
Me: I think homesickness is something a lot of college students struggle with and something they don’t even anticipate. What is your advice to students who move away from home for college?
Ali: I think the first step is realizing that the time is going to pass faster than you think it is. Which is not super helpful at the start, but honestly, I wish I had spent less time wishing I was somewhere else and more time enjoying where I was at. It was hard, but it’s important to enjoy the season that you are in. And your family is an excellent support system, but sometimes the only way you learn more about yourself and who you are is by getting out from under their wings. So, I guess, don’t cut your family out of your life, but don’t panic if you’re suddenly discovering parts about yourself that you didn’t know existed before when they’re not around. It’s okay to do a little self-discovery.
Me: I had a similar experience. I stayed home for my undergraduate degree and commuted to a nearby college, and then I went 800 miles away for graduate school. It was okay at first because my sister moved with me, but then she left and I was all alone. It was scary at first, but I learned that I was stronger than I thought I was and that I had the capacity to become self sufficient. Do you have any other advice for college students?
Ali: Enjoy the college experience! I know that people say that all the time, but honestly, it is a great time of life to be able to dedicate time to learning what you love and hanging out with people your age all the time. It can be super crazy, but you’ll make some of the best memories during college. Also, it’s important to find balance between social life and academic life….I was one that was always erring on the side of too much academia and not enough fun, but I know it works both ways.
Me: Thanks for letting me interview you! I think the college years were the best years of my life, but it’s a sharp learning curve, and I think it’s good to go in kinda sorta having an idea of what to expect.
Ali: For sure. Thanks for having me!
Don't forget to check out Ali's blog at https://alioleary.wordpress.com/!
Today I had a bad experience. Whatever the reverse of serendipity is, this experience was that. It was out of the blue on a perfectly normal day. I got my daughter to school late and suffered some sharp words from the teacher. Ouch!
So maybe it's not that big a deal--it's not like I shot someone or lost a leg--but these tiny little criticisms can cause an otherwise sunny day to spiral into something dark and stormy. We've all suffered them--eye rolls, scoffing disguised as coughs (or not disguised at all), and sometimes out-and-out verbal assaults. What do you do when you’re the object of someone else's disdain?
Though I understood the logic behind the teacher's words—okay, yeah, I need to get my kid to school on time (even if it is preschool)—that doesn't mean it didn't hurt. Self-defeating thoughts ran through my head. I'm the worst mother ever…I'm so irresponsible…I let my daughter get away with too much…Everyone else knows what they're doing; I'm the only clueless one. I even came close to crying (I'll admit I'm pretty thin-skinned).
But then, I remembered the advice I told myself years and years ago that I’ve turned to repeatedly in my life. Now I'm going to share that advice with you:
This too shall pass.
That's right. Those negative feelings will pass. The bad times won't last forever. Things will get better. I know it doesn't feel that way when you're in the pit of despair, when you feel like the world is against you, but remember that it's exactly that--a feeling. And feelings are transient; they don't last forever.
I know I’ve had rotten experiences throughout the years—I was bullied in school, I had a terrible fight with my best friend from college that ended our relationship, my crushes were never reciprocated—but all that passed. It’s in the past. I got over it.
____________________________________ Oftentimes even if we know things intellectually, we don't acknowledge them emotionally.
And here's my second piece of advice: don't let other people determine how you feel about yourself.
Let's face it--people can be downright mean. Sometimes the world looks like a truly ugly place, and other people can reflect that ugliness in their actions and their words. What you have to remember is that if other people are throwing bad karma your way, it's their problem, not yours.
Now, this seems pretty self-apparent. Duh, you already know that you're not responsible for other people's behavior. But the thing is that oftentimes even if we know things intellectually, we don't acknowledge them emotionally. What I mean by this is that even if you know someone is lashing out at you just because he or she had a bad day, it doesn't mean that it's not hurtful.
You have to remind yourself as often as you need to that if a person's attitude is broken, it's not your fault and it's not your problem. That can be a hard idea to accept. Sometimes we might feel like if we did things a little differently, maybe the other person would be nicer to us. Maybe if we were just more patient or kinder or if we were more careful about what we did, the other person would be nicer to us. But that's not the case. The truth is that people with ugly attitudes are going to spew their hate no matter what you do. It's not because of anything you've done. It's just because they're unhappy. And that's not your fault.
I remember this girl I worked with the summer after my senior year of high school. She had the personality of a Tasmanian Devil and the sting of a bullet ant. If you said, "Good morning!" her response would be "Grumble grumble," *eye roll*. Actually, I don't remember any conversations with this girl. I just remember how horrible she was. For instance, months after we'd worked together, I saw her at the college library on the pay phone (yeah, OLD school), and so I yelped a greeting at her in surprise. Rather than acknowledging me with a smile or a little wave, she just held up one finger as if to say I-will-deign-to-speak-to-you-after-I-finish-this-very-important-phone-call-in-spite-of-the-fact-I'm-not-talking-and-there-doesn't-appear-to-be-anyone-on-the-other-end-of-the-phone. So after a few seconds standing there like an idiot, I just walked off. She just wasn't worth the effort.
And that's the hard truth: some people just aren't worth the effort.
So I'll leave you with this advice when negative karmic rays come your way--remember that this too shall pass and don't let other people decide how you see yourself. And good luck out there--it's a tough world.
For another perspective--
Here's a good article from Psychology Today about dealing with negative people.
How do you deal with negative people? Leave a comment below.
It's that time of year again--the transition between the old and the new, when people get the bizarre idea that somehow this year is going to be different, that somehow they're going to be so full of pep and vigor in the first month of the new year that they're going to change their lives through the sheer force of will power.
And to that, I say, BAH, HUMBUG!
Yes, I am a Scrooge when it comes to new year’s resolutions.
New year’s resolutions are a scam that we perpetrate against ourselves. We begin the new year with fervent optimism, and then as the realities of life settle in, our resolve crumbles. Then, we think, I’ll try again next year. Next year will be different. There will be more time next year.
Well, this fantasy next year is never going to happen. We've built it up too much in our minds, invested it with too much importance, imbedded it with the sparkle of a magical amulet. And when you make something that grandiose, it’s bound to fail.
So in the place of this forever unattainable “new year’s resolution,” I propose something much more humble. Instead of putting off this new you until January 1, I say do it today. Don't wait; after all, a new year’s resolution is just a euphemism for procrastination. If you're wanting to make a big change in your life--or even a little one--start out small. Trying to lose 20 pounds? Go for a five minute walk. Eat a salad with crackers and cheese for lunch. Want to write the great American novel? Sit down and write 250 words. Need to find a new job that doesn't bore you to tears? Look on monster.com. Email someone in the field and ask how he or she got started. But don't wait until January. Don't put it off. Do it today. Do it right now. Tell yourself it’s just practice for the real thing, or play whatever mind games you have to in order to get yourself going.
And then when you fail--which you are bound to do--are you going to walk away from the "new you"? Are you going to put it off until next year's resolutions? No! If you fall off the wagon once or twice, it doesn't mean you're a failure. It just means you've hit a bump in the road. Jump back on that horse (okay, I see that my metaphors or not very consistent...but hopefully you get my gist). Try again and again and again. Don't give up--you know, all those phrases that Nike summed into their three word slogan, "Just do it."
And don't forget--Carpe the diem! Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
Okay, I'll get off my soapbox. Happy new year, peoples!
For my composition students' first paper, they wrote an essay based on a quote. It was a diagnostic essay, which implies that I am a "doctor" and they have writing "ailments" that I have to cure. :-) Below is one of the quotes they were allowed to choose to write their paper on as well as my own meditation on the quote's meaning and its relevance to my life.
"I think there's a time in your life where you don't feel like you fit in. I think everyone has that when you're a teenager, especially, and especially in the society we live in."--Matthew Vaughn
We were reading Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self Reliance"--his proclamations that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," and that "Whoso would be a man, must be a noncomformist." Eleventh grade English class, Calera High School, 1993. After we reveled in Emerson's trenchant philosophy of life--which went completely over our teenage heads--the teacher, Mrs. G.--who in my opinion looked like a witch with her sharp eyes, crooked nose, and cackly voice--asked the class if they knew anyone who was a noncomformist. Tara, a girl with a big voice who never sufferd her presence to be unknown, piped up and said that I, yes, me, Cheryl Clark, the brown-haired pipsqueak who sat at her desk and never said anything ever, never spoke up in class, never gave her opinion, always let gossip and mayhem flow around her, never to graze the flesh of her skin, I was a nonconformist.
I was shocked in two ways. First, I was shocked that someone had called attention to me in class. The thing about me as a high school student is that I abhorred attention. I was a tiny mouse who crept around the corners of social life, peeking in from the outside, never one to be looked upon, except to perhaps comment on the background wildlife in the room. My heart sped up, just like that of the tiny creature I identified most strongly with--the field mouse--one who's spotted a predator in its periphery. Maybe my mouth dropped open; I know for certain all thoughts fled my little mouse brain. I had no way to respond because all I wanted was for the attention to pass around me, like a stick flowing around a rock in the middle of a stream.
_______________________________________ The identities we carry as teenagers remain with us throughout life.
Mrs. G. protested. What? No, Cheryl is not a nonconformist. Don't be ridiculous, Tara. I'm talking about a real nonconformist, she said. And that's where the second shock came from.
Was I a nonconformist? I was very shy, didn't speak up in class. I tried to avoid crowds, not to stand out in them. And I read. A lot. I loved to read. I rushed through my assignments in class so that I could grab the novel I kept at the ready next to my desk and devour every last morsel of prose. I got good grades, really good grades. Most of my peers were satisfied with C's or even D's. But for me, it was A's, preferably A+'s, or nothing. So in many ways, I did not blend in; I did not conform to the behavior of my peers.
But Mrs. G said I wasn't a nonconformist. Was she right? I didn't live in a cave or eat worms. I wasn't a hermit. I didn't dress like I bought my clothes from a retired theater troupe. I didn't do anything zany or ever stand out. People's eyes trailed over me, never lingered. I was the forgotten girl. I was not special.
So perhaps my nonconformity--that which Mrs. G. scoffed at--was a quiet sort of thing. Mine was a silent rebellion. Against the negative expectations, the self-destructive behavior, the brashness, the idiocy, the irresponsibility, the promiscuity, the boldness that marked my peers. I stood out by not standing out. And no, I didn't fit in. I had friends, but they were the weird kids--the kids no one else wanted, the fringe folks who just didn't connect with the mainstream.
The identities we carry as teenagers remain with us throughout life. I still feel like I am the odd girl out of the group. I still feel like a noncomformist, but whereas it bothered me when I was younger, these days I embrace the status of the outsider. I don't want to be like everyone else. I don't want to be a typical middle class white lady. I don't want to keep up with the Joneses. I don't want to strive for mediocrity.
I remember a few years back when I was working as a school librarian, a teacher told me that her aspiration was to be the epitome of middle class-ness. She wanted to have the best house on the block, the kids with the highest grades, the nicest clothes a middle class income could afford. She want to be the best example of the middle class that small town Oklahoma could offer. I had never heard such an aspiration verbalized before, and I found it shocking. It seemed like she was striving for everything I had railed against all my life--why would anyone want to be the best at being like everyone else? It seemed a strange idea, and it still seems strange to me.
So how important is fitting in? For a young person, I suppose it is the thing, and for many adults it is as well. But like Emerson and like Robert Frost, the great American poet, I like to think that I have taken the road "less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference."
If you enjoyed this post, please click the share button below. Thanks!--Cheryl
So just to be completely transparent, I didn't come up with this idea. In fact, it comes from a TED talk I watched by Amy Cuddy, which I've tried to spread far and wide and which I hope you check out after reading this post. I'm summarizing it here because I just think it's too darn great not to.
Alphas are big. They may not have big bodies, but they use their arms and legs to make themselves deem bigger than what they actually are. They hold their heads up high. They emanate power and confidence and maybe even arrogance and aggression as well. They don't walk; they swagger. They're in charge, and they know it.
It turns out that big cheeses exist in both the animal and human world. In fact, we behave a lot like animals in this regard. When we feel confident, we tend to make ourselves physically bigger. Cuddy talks about competition winners in particular. At the moment of victory, their arms go up and they lift their heads so that all the world can see *I'm It. Yes, look at me. I'm Super-Awesome, and I know it.* It doens't matter if they've seen anyone stand this way or not; it's a natural human (and animal) response.
On the flip side, people who are feeling insecure tend to close in on themselves. They keep their arms and legs close to their core bodies, lean over, keep their heads down, and avoid eye contact. They don't try to make themselves big; in fact, they do the exact opposite.
Or if you're sitting down, you can put your legs up on the desk in front of you and cross your arms behind your head, like you're the CEO in a fancy Manhattan building with a big window and an awesome view.
But wait! Does this really work? I mean, it sounds a little bit goofy, right?
Apparently it does work. Standing like this--in your power pose--actually changes the chemicals in your brain. It increases the testosterone levels in your brain, which leads to feelings of dominance and confidence, while decreasing the cortisol levels, which diminishes your feelings of stress.
So, yeah, just by standing like Wonder Woman, you can hijack your brain chemistry.
Of course, this research doesn't imply that you should constantly stand around like Wonder Woman or dress like Wonder Woman or tell people your name is Wonder Woman (which is what my niece used to do). People might look at you like you were a lunatic if you did. What you should do instead, according to Cuddy, is try out one of these poses before an evaluative situation, such as a performance, a test, a speech, or a job interview. Instead of just sitting around panicking and checking your phone messages, try slipping away to a private area--like a bathroom stall--and get your superhero pose on. Be quiet but be proud.
Cuddy suggests doing a power pose for about two minutes to pump yourself up. Her research shows that's all the time you need to make a real (temporary) difference in your brain chemistry.
Full disclosure--I decided to test out this technique before my last job interview. I stood in the bathroom with my hands on my hips, feet apart, and head up for a few minutes. During the interview itself , I felt very confident even when they asked me questions I hadn't prepared for. And best of all, I ended up getting the job.
So next time you're facing a stressful, evaluative situation, pretend you're Wonder Woman (or some other superhuman). Be the alpha!
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So which one are you? A big cheese or a tiny crumb? Well, maybe you're both. It probably depends on the situation, right? If you're thinking about giving a speech in front of class, you're probably a sweaty, nervous, car wreck, but if you're playing that video game you're the bomb at, you're probably Captain Fearless. The truly good news-tastic thing is that there's a really simple way to transform yourself from a pile of sweaty wimpdom to a superhero fantasticon.
Here's how: Hack your brain using your body language.
Make yourself physically bigger. Extend your arms and legs into a big X shape. Or try this--the Wonder woman pose:
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! :-)
Feeling better about your anonymity now that you've read this post? Feeling invisible enough to start a career as a top secret spy? (Just kidding.) If you liked this post, please share it with everyone in the whole wide world--click the buttons below to "like" or tweet it. Thanks, dude!
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.