Fighting Feeling like a Fraud

If you're not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback.
-Brene Brown 

Last week someone unsubscribed from my email. The week before that someone else unsubscribed. Yesterday, the number one site on my list of sites I want to see Aiming for Okay rejected my work. 

When I got the rejection email I thought, "Well, that guy's dumb." Where that voice came from, I have no idea, but I liked it. That voice--mine--read the email, let it pass into my consciousness, assessed it, and immediately filed it away under, "Wrong Opinions," in my mind and in my Gmail. Then I went back and read something a friend wrote me last week about how something I had written previously helped her. Then I got on with the rest of my day, re-centered and reminded of why I do this every week. Each time I share my story, what I struggle with, where I trip up, where I give up, where I succeed, where I overcome, I buy a little less into the story that I'm a fraud, an impostor in my own life.   

I spent this past weekend at a writer's retreat in Sewanee, TN with eight other writers, none of whom I'd met before. We spent the weekend reading, writing, commiserating (I was doing a lot of the 'miserating), reviewing our work, sharing what helps us stay present to our writing, sharing what helps us break away from our writing so that we can find it again later, and eating. There was a lot of eating. 

Besides the overwhelming sense of community I experienced with total strangers, the staggering takeaway from this weekend was, "Kate, you are not a fraud. You deserve a seat at this table as much as the next person."

See, for much of my life, even as a child, I felt one misstep away from everyone finding out the truth about me: I'm not smart enough, funny enough, fast enough, outrageous enough, cool enough, pretty enough, thin enough, kind enough, enough, enough. 

In my mind, everyone--everyone--had it all figured out but me. Everyone got the manual except me. "Fake it 'til you make it!" But how did people even know what to fake? As I got older, more anxious, and less and less okay, I developed this paranoia that the jig was going to be up at any moment. My boss would come in and say, "You're fired! You're terrible at your job and know nothing!" My roommate would come in and say, "You're disgusting! Move out!" My friends would say, "We never liked you anyway! Leave!" And I found myself on the run, physically and emotionally unavailable to myself or others because I was too busy tending to the situations I had created in my mind to bolster this argument that I was a fraud, that I knew nothing about anything.

As I began to spend less time chasing these plot lines and more time focusing on what is true I realized I was never a fraud (insecure and unsure, yes; fraudulent, no). I had never been a fraud. There was never a manual. There's never been a manual. There will never be a manual. We all get the same blank slate when we arrive here.

The old me (and by old me, I mean 48 hours ago me) would have gotten the rejection email and believed somehow this stranger had uncovered my fraudulent ways. I would have read and re-read that email in my mind a thousand times, making sure to snuff out any hope of emotional rebound. Today, 48 hours later me, I didn't care to replay anything in my mind other than, "Keep going. You're on the right path." That and, "Well, that guy's dumb."

And to give myself a little more credit, it's been more than 48 hours in the making. It's been a long road (still on it) paved with a lot of, "Will it ever be not like this?" and "What lesson did I not learn last time that I'm having to learn again?" We're always learning and changing. Even when we think we're not "growing," we're recovering, repairing, resting up for the next big change.

Rejection is not proof that I am a fraud. Rejection is proof that I am more than one man's opinion. One person's assessment, or non-assessment of me, does not make me more or less valuable. Rejection shows me how willing or unwilling I am to find another way. 

I have a seat at the table because I want a seat at the table and I am willing to work to keep it. That's it. That's the only requirement for membership to any club I want to be a part of today.