While traveling through the deep south, a friend of mine stopped at a fast food restaurant. While he ate his hamburger, he watched the pouring rain outside. (You haven’t experienced rain until you’ve experienced it in the south. This was what was known as a “frog-choker” in local parlance.)
As he sat there, he noticed a young man take off his shoes and socks, put them in a plastic bag, cinch it up tight, and then leave the restaurant. He was walking down the street, in that downpour, barefoot. My friend turned to his companion and said, “Have you ever loved your shoes so much that you would go barefoot before getting them wet?”
Well, I must admit that I try not to wear suede shoes in the rain. They’d be ruined. But in that case, I just avoid wearing them on days when rain is in the forecast. I don’t see myself walking barefoot down a dirty public sidewalk.
But nowadays, shoes can cost upwards of a hundred dollars. I kind of admire this kid’s fastidiousness. I admire it even though I can’t imagine spending that kind of money on shoes. But who knows. These could have been some discount knock offs that didn’t cost much at all.
Value is relative. These might have been that boy’s first pair of new shoes, ever. Maybe he worked hard for those shoes. Scrimped and saved. Maybe they were the first things he ever bought with his very own money. Maybe those shoes, for him, were an achievement that he was truly proud of. Maybe they were the beginning of a lifetime of goal-setting and ultimate success.
We’ll never know the rest of this story, but I hope that young man keeps on walking. At that pace, he’ll go places.
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My whole life, I’ve been waiting to be found out. Not discovered, like some pretty girl sitting at a soda fountain in Los Angeles, destined for stardom. No. Found out. Exposed for the imposter that I am.
I expect to be grabbed by the elbow. “You don’t belong here! How did you get here? Get back to the service entrance, wench!” “You don’t really fit in those clothes, that house, that job, that relationship, that car!” “You can’t have good things!” “That achievement? It’s a mistake.” “You are a fake, a phony.” “You are not worthy.” “Sure, they love you now, but only because they have no idea how flawed you really are.” “Just you wait. It’ll all turn to shit sooner or later.”
If any of that sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. It seems that 70 percent of us have the imposter experience at some point in our lives. Note that I’m not calling it Imposter Syndrome, as many people do. It’s not a mental illness. It’s not some flaw in your brain chemistry. You are not broken. We are not broken.
Yes, an attitude adjustment wouldn’t hurt. Habits may need to be changed. Chances are you learned this negativity at your parents’ knees. Talking about it helps.
The more we realize how common this thought process is, the easier it is to realize that its these thoughts that are the imposters, not you. Not us.
Don’t let these ideas fester. Don’t let them hold you back. Don’t allow them to stop you from trying. That way lies stress, anxiety, and depression.
Let yourself feel your success. Don’t just dwell on the failures as if they merit more of your time. Write down the compliments, not the insults. Allow yourself new experiences.
In case no one has ever told you: You deserve all the things. You deserve them as much as anyone else does. You belong here, too.
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I always kind of feel sorry for super successful young athletes and actors. It’s wonderful when someone prospers in life, but when it happens at an early age, before one has the social and emotional skills to deal with all the complications that come with it, that high achievement can and does often lead to disaster.
When you become a millionaire at 16, it’s a safe bet that the sharks will be circling. And if you don’t have competent and morally apt advisors, at that age you are probably not thinking about wise investments for your future. When you are young you think you’ll always have what you have at that moment. (If only.)
Also, think of the pressure this puts on the future you. How do you top the amazing victories of your youth? What must it be like to know, deep down, that it’s all downhill from here? Granted, you can peak more than once in life, but the odds were long even the first time.
Nah, I’ll take my youthful mediocrity any day. At least that allowed me to have hope for the future.
A few months back, in an effort to meet like-minded people, I attended a storytelling event and actually got up and spoke. This was a huge deal for me. I was shaking from head to toe. You can read about that here. But in the end, it was a huge rush, and I became addicted!
I can’t come often. They usually meet on a night I have to work, but I hope to do it every once in a while, at least. This month’s theme was: Exceeding Yourself:Stories of Personal Mountaintops. So I decided to tell the story of why I moved across the continent to a state where I knew no one and started my life over.
You can hear the 6 minute speech here. It’s so much better with the crowd reaction, even though I stuffed up in the middle and drew a complete blank for a terrifying eternity. But if you can’t listen to sound files, here’s more or less what I said:
Okay, so last time I spoke, Paul awarded me the banana bread of bravado because they were fresh out of scones of courage. This time I have to do it without the promise of carbs at the end, so please be patient with me.
I moved here 10 months ago, and that may not seem like a huge personal achievement in and of itself, but you have got to understand, I’ve been trying to get out of Florida for 30 years, and something always seemed to pull me back. Relationships. Finances. Something always got in the way. But I wanted out of there like it was killing me.
Ah, Florida: the land of the hanging chad, where teachers are prohibited from saying the word “condom”, which is why they rank 19th in teen pregnancies while you rank 33rd.
Florida, where not only can’t you die with dignity, but if you try to pull the plug on your vegetative comatose spouse, the state legislature will try to weigh in. For seven years.
Oh, and you haven’t LIVED until one of the Bush brothers has been your governor. Twice. And then gets replaced by Charlie Crist, who changed political parties. Twice.
So, yeah, moving from Florida to Washington isn’t your basic relocation. Talk about exceeding expectations. It’s like moving to another freakin’ planet. Wouldn’t you exceed your expectations if you suddenly found yourself in the Land of Reasonable People for the first time in your life? Especially when you factor in that I didn’t know a soul here and had never stepped foot in this state. For some reason I thought Seattle would be flat like Florida and snowy like New England. Go figure.
Come to find out, the only thing that the two states seem to have in common is really cool Native American place names, and a weird propensity of serial killers. We even shared Ted Bundy.
That’s about all we share, though, so you’ll have to forgive me if there’s a bit of an adjustment period.
Even the bird song in the morning sounds different. And I’ve experienced spring and fall for the first time in decades. In Florida, all we have is summer and January.
By the way, the sun isn’t supposed to rise at 4:30 in the damned morning! What is WRONG with you people? Can’t you see I’m trying to sleep?
It may take me a while to get over the posttraumatic stress of hurricanes, snakes, mosquitoes, fire ants, scorpions, sinkholes that swallow your whole house without warning, and spiders the size of the palm of your hand that rear up and hiss at you. But on the other hand, that high pitched sound you hear during the next earthquake will be me screaming like a little girl.
Speaking of screaming, your reaction to itty bitty bugs cracks me up. You don’t have bugs. Try cockroaches that are big enough to conceal weapons stand their ground. Those are bugs.
But what you do have is the best tap water I’ve ever tasted in my life. Why would anyone buy bottled water in this town when your tap water doesn’t smell normal, like rotten eggs?
And your apples and cherries and dairy products practically make me swoon. But I despair of ever having a good store bought tomato or banana again. And your Fried Chicken? Child, please. You don’t know fried chicken. That could be the only thing that sends me running back to Florida.
But for now, I think you’re stuck with me. When I die, I want my ashes mixed with some fireworks and set off illegally in Lake Union. A triumphant exit for someone who once triumphantly arrived.
(I’m still looking for friends, though, so if you have room on your dance card, let me know!)
I’ve always been a huge success in the academic world. Top of my class. The envy of my peers. So everyone, including me, assumed I’d be a huge success in the real world as well. I’m fairly certain my mother believed I’d be the CEO of a fortune 500 company by the time I was 21. Yeah. Not so much.
I don’t know what little cog is missing inside my head, what chink appears in my armor, what mote there is in my eye, but there is a flaw somewhere in my system that has prevented me from taking the world by storm. Stormless, I am, despite the perpetual cloud above my head.
It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve made some monumental mistakes, and that takes effort. If even one of those attempts at life improvement had worked out, things would look very different. For a start I wouldn’t be sitting alone on a drawbridge at 4 in the morning, fighting sleep so as to remain employed. And yet here I am, keeping the waterway safe for the boating public and trying to keep my eyes from rolling up into my head.
I do have a roof that keeps the rain off of me, although it belongs to someone else, and to date I’ve managed to keep my two dogs in kibble, so I must be doing something right, but I have to say I’m rather disappointed with the lackluster state of my curriculum vitae. But there is something to be said for profound lethargy.
For example, all of my successful friends seem to have at least one divorce under their belts, and many of them are seeing their whimsically named home offices transformed back into bedrooms for their adult children. I can’t imagine a worse hell than that, frankly.
And you’d think I’d have more stress-related illness living hand to mouth as I do, but in reality most of my successful friends are in much worse shape than I am. Apparently fighting to keep up with coworkers in their unrelenting pursuit of corporate greed seems to take its toll. High finance isn’t for sissies.
Other items to my credit: I’ve never foreclosed on someone’s home or been foreclosed upon. I’ve never looked into an employee’s eyes and boldly lied about their future. I’ve never misappropriated funds, and I’ve never hidden funds to get out of paying my fair share of taxes. Having never climbed very high, I haven’t had to step on someone else to do so.
I think that the more successful you become, the more likely it is that you’ve had to do something shady to get there. It may have been an incremental shift in your perspective until one day you woke up in the land of deceit, but on some level you know that’s where you’ve come to reside. Congratulations.
On the other hand, I feel as though I’ve gotten through life with my integrity intact. Perhaps it’s my moral compass that weighs me down. If so, I’ll gladly bear that burden.