The Long Con

I’ll be honest, as I’ve been in the past: I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m making this all up as I go along. All of it. Life. Fathering, writing, teaching, running, husbanding… you will find no stores of expertise here, and precious few pearls of wisdom in a heap of dusty crumbs of idiocy. But you’ll also see that that doesn’t stop me from pretending.

I use this blarg all the time to talk about things I pretend to know a lot about. I dispense all sorts of marginally intelligible writing advice, I wax eloquent about the virtues of distance running, I tell funny stories about baby poop that hint at, but never actually deliver, profound lessons about life. Why bother doing all this, when I’m not actually a writing guru, not actually a running yogi, not actually a SuperDad?

Because I want to be those things.

But here’s the trick: you don’t get to flick a switch and start being those things. The road from where you are to where you want to be is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the weak and the tyranny of evil men. (Or maybe that’s only if you’re Samuel L. Jackson.) Oh, you want to write? There are thousands of writers out there. What makes you think you’ll make it? Good point, you think, and give it up, wisely saving your efforts for more productive endeavors. Oh, you want to start exercising? What’s the point? Most people fall short of their exercise goals and give it up anyway; you might as well hang it up now and save yourself the heartache. Too right, you think, and cancel your gym membership.

But where do those voices of doubt and dissent come from? Sure, there are haters out there that will poop on your dreams and ask you to thank them for it, but the louder, more convincing voices are the ones in our own heads. I know I can speak for myself when I say I’m my own worst critic. The voice in my head that tells me I can’t do things speaks like Morgan Freeman with a 50,000-watt station broadcasting down to the very marrow of my soul. It’s overbearing, constant, undeniable. How do I overcome it?

By pretending.

I’m not an expert writer, but I can pretend to be one. And I can bang out over 1,000 words a day on average despite my full-time job and part-time daddy duties as if I were an expert writer. And I can shovel out advice like a steamshovel about my experience and pretend to know what I’m talking about to give the illusion that I actually do know what I’m talking about. Because that’s what experts do. They look confident. They walk the walk and talk the talk. You wanna be that thing? You have to start doing the thing.

Nobody’s born a brilliant novelist. No athlete pops out of the womb running ultramarathons. The people that do those things have the same voices of doubt that you or I have. The human experience, for all its vast variations, striations, complications and salutations (whatever, I ran out of good rhymes), is actually pretty standard. We get a life, we get some challenges, and we either overcome them, or we don’t. If you want to get ahead, you have to learn to be a con man.

But not so that you can run a swindle on some unsuspecting rubes. (Though I guess that helps, too.) The con you want to run — the long con that you work for years and years — is on yourself. You have to fool that inner voice of doubt into believing that you’re not to be doubted anymore. You have to fake it til you make it. That means pretending to be the thing you want to be, every day, in public and in private, until one day it’s no longer a con and you are that thing.

Wanna be a writer? Write buckets of garbage. Drivel, drivel, drivel. Pile it on and pile it on and write boring stories and hackneyed narratives and cliched tripe and nonsensical dialogue until one day, when you’re not even thinking about pretending to be a writer anymore, you’re simply writing because that’s what you do now, you write something and it’s not half bad, and your inner voice of doubt will say, as if you’ve just demonstrated that the world is not, in fact, flat, as he previously believed, “oh. Well… I guess that makes sense, then.” And BLAM KAFIZZLE, you’re a writer.

Wanna be a runner? Get outside and run until you can’t anymore, and then stop and walk home. Then do it again. And again. And again and again and again, until you can run for a mile, and then for two miles, and then one day you’ll be out for your daily torture session, except you’ll realize it’s not actually torture anymore, it’s rather enjoyable, come to think of it, and you’ll start looking forward to those runs. And when people ask you what you’re doing this weekend you’ll respond airily, with a casual wave of your hand like you’re just going out for eggs, “oh, I’m going out for a 10k this morning,” and they’ll be all like “whoa, you’re running in a race?” and you’ll be all “no, that’s just what I do — I’m a RUNNER NOW.” And you’ll stomp on their toes for emphasis. Or maybe not. The stomping is optional, though it sends a good, strong message.

Point is, all the old adages are true. If you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you’re right. A thing always seems impossible until it is accomplished. You have to fake it until you make it.

The power of sticktoitiveness (not a word, but yeah, totally a word I love) cannot be overstated. If you wake up every morning determined to accomplish a thing, and then take the steps and do the work necessary to take one step on that journey EVERY DAY, you can get there.

But what do I know? I’m not an expert.

I’m only pretending to be.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.