You can’t get there from here.
That thing you want to be? It’s an elite club. Elaborate membership initiation. Dizzying ivory tower across a raging, flood-fed river from where you are now. They actually get money to do the thing you’re trying to do for fun. They probably even have a secret handshake, and even if you made it across the river and climbed the tower, they wouldn’t teach it to you.
In short, you’re a pretender, and you will always be a pretender. You don’t belong there. This is impostor’s syndrome, and it’s a bitch. Impostor’s syndrome speaks with the voice that came pre-installed in your own head, which makes it particularly credible. And worse — it’s true! For the first (insert arbitrary period of time here), you will suck at the thing you’re trying to do.
(Here we talk about running and writing, since those are my two primary extracurricular jams.)
Those first runs suck worse than anything has ever sucked. You can’t even finish them, the best you can hope for is to do a little bit better than you did last time before your legs give out and you literally dissolve into a puddle of sweat on the pavement. You’re as graceful as an elephant on roller skates. You wheeze like a Chevy Malibu on its last legs (god help the designers of that car if I ever meet them in an alley).
Somewhere in the distance, you see the Ivory Tower of the real runners. Olympic Athletes, sure, but not even that — just people that run races for fun are in the tower. Marathoners. Half-marathoners. Even running a 5k seems a monumental and impossible goal at this point. And that voice kicks up in your head: you don’t belong, you’re not a real runner and you never will be, this is stupid, you’re stupid, stop trying!
Or writing. You set out to write a book or a story or a play or whatever, and maybe you start off okay, but soon the work turns into real, actual four-letter-word-WORK. The inspiration won’t come no matter how much you crank the engine (metaphors, whee!). The words that do come feel idiotic, stilted, hackneyed, or worst of all, just fargoing boring. You are the World’s Worst Writer, and it’s immediately obvious to anybody who reads your fetid pile of word-gerple.
And there, the Ivory Tower again. Real authors making real money with real readers, writing two or three or a dozen books a year, their books on the shelves at the mother-trucking Target, for god’s sake, so you can’t even pretend not to be aware of them while you’re buying TP and Chex Mix. Then the voice: your crap will never be on the shelves, just think of all the time you’re wasting, you don’t belong, you’re not a real writer, stop fooling yourself!
And maybe you believe it. Or maybe you don’t. Perception is reality, after all, and that Ivory Tower, metaphorical as it may be, exists in your mind, and all the barriers keeping you from it exist just the same. Hours, weeks, months, years of training and practice. A few lucky breaks along the way. Tenacity. Bull-headedness. Maybe even a little dash of crazy. Even if you’re doing the thing a little bit right now, it’s all pretend. You’re not a runner, you’re not a writer, you’re not THAT THING, whatever that thing is.
You’re just you, playing in the sand. Building up a joke of a castle and watching it wash away with each new wave.
But here’s the trick:
To build a castle, you actually need a bit of water. You can’t build anything without a healthy dose of the stuff that will bring it all tumbling down. And that Ivory Tower on the horizon?
It’s just a sand castle that somebody else built while they were feeling just as doubtful as you feel right now.
The trick is not to find the magic key to get into that Ivory Tower. You don’t have to guess the password, you don’t have to break yourself doing exactly what everybody else did to get there. The trick is to build your own Ivory Tower out of the sand, no matter how many times the ocean knocks it down for you, no matter how many times you wreck it yourself because you don’t know what the hockey-sticks you’re doing.
And it won’t be their Ivory Tower. You don’t have to belong to the super-secret, super-elite club, to be able to call yourself THAT THING THAT YOU WANT TO BE. It’ll be your Ivory Tower, where it’s okay to suck, where it’s okay to miss a day because you feel like puke run through a garbage disposal, where it’s okay to do something the completely wrong way and then turn around and re-do it the next day if what’s what it takes.
You build your own Ivory Tower.
And then you shine the beacon out to the other poor souls who think you did something magical to get there.
This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.