Sometimes, oftentimes, I awaken thinking I am the great imposter. Yes, I am. I think I’m not brilliant, not beautiful, not even smart and sexy; I am an imposter. And one day people will find out. Then what?
I mentioned this to a friend recently and her response was, no, not you! But you are brilliant!
No, no I’m not. I have a high—genius high—IQ. I have a photographic memory. A total of six college degrees, But, brilliant’s a stretch. Brilliant is something complete, knowing it all, not needing to learn anything new.
Last night, I was discussing my brakes with Ian. They are behaving strangely. He asked, “Is it the brake pads or the master cylinder? Do you have disk brakes?”
I have no clue—he might as well have been speaking…Martian. My brakes aren’t working right and someone needs to fix that.
The list of things I cannot do, or do not understand, goes on ad infinitum. Cars, I can’t change my oil; math; carpentry, I can’t build things, even with directions; music, I love music, but I am completely inept musically; dancing; singing; football (American and World)—well, really athletics in general once I move beyond baseball; science—all of them; engineering; languages outside of Romantic, well and a smattering of Irish (I can cuss in Irish, well I guess I can cuss in several languages; it’s the Irish way); math, did I say math already? I really suck at math. Ok, so I can do languages that use the Roman alphabet, no I can’t do Teutonic, Scandinavian, or Slavic languages; economics is a foreign country. I can’t knit, crochet, or sew. It took me over a week to figure out how to make the cable box work, seriously!
I could go on, but you get the idea. Brilliant is the last word I would use to describe myself. And yet, people describe me that way. She’s brilliant, a college professor, a published writer, an amazing organizer, cook, gardener!
Well no, not so much. I teach English. I have amassed four degrees in English. If I couldn’t teach that, I would be … mentally deficient. And well, yeah, I can organize just about anything because if whatever it is, is unorganized, my cover may be blown. Cook? I like to eat. Garden, not really, I sort of plant, and let Nature do the rest. I guess I am a brilliant planter? Although I somehow doubt that, twenty-four years of horse manure makes for good fertilizer. I just planted at the bottom of the hill—no genius required: shit runs down hill.
No one told me I was brilliant when I was a child. No one even told me I was smart.No, not me. I have two sisters, the oldest is “the smart” one, and the next sister is “the pretty one.” So, by default, I was neither of those things. I was the invisible sister, the tomboy, the bookworm, the child who liked fantasy worlds, the problem child. My mother thought I required finishing school—really, that’s a thing.
And so, I took that in. Obviously, unlike my smart and pretty sisters, I was incomplete, less than. I needed finishing school. (In my own little corner in my own little world…) So, if I succeeded at something, I must be an imposter.
I was an imposter when I modeled, I wasn’t pretty enough for that. Too tomboyish. Too hippie-like. Too not what a model was thought to be, at least when I wasn’t working. I wasn’t the cheerleader type. I wasn’t the popular sister. Not pretty enough to date anyone on the football team (which is probably for the best, because I don’t understand football).
My smart sister once told me the only reason I pursued a college education was because I was an imposter, if I had degrees people would think I was smart…even though I wasn’t. Not compared to her, anyway.
As a professor, I am always terrified that my bosses will find out that I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Some faux paux will expose me. I will say the wrong thing, showing my less-than-brilliant-self for what I am. I will give a student incorrect information, forget an important piece of paperwork, or fill it out incorrectly. And they’ll know!
I was surprised to discover recently that most people feel this way. We all experience the terror of being found out, of being exposed as less than. It’s not just me.
This is an affirmation. Faking it til you make it is a human condition. Fuck you, smart sister! And when I look at my life, I don’t see too much faking it. I did graduate with honors from every program I have ever pursued. Hell, I graduated with honors form William and Mary. I felt like an imposter all the way through, but I did it, damn it.
So, as the new school year begins, I bury the imposter. I tell myself it is human to feel this way. That perhaps this feeling of not measuring up is what drives me to keep learning, keep growing. Maybe it’s what keeps us one step ahead of those who would expose us. Perhaps it is a question of word choice.
Perhaps we are not imposters and frauds, perhaps we are just travelers striving for perfection. And once perfection is achieved, all we learn is that we are simply on a plateau—and we struggle to reach the next level. Maybe because I am always a work in progress, always looking forward, I see myself the imposter. I want to be in that next level. I want to be brilliant. Maybe, that comes after I figure out how to be a human being, and not a human doing.