At a barbecue recently I asked a friend how she was doing. She opted for the standard response and declared “Fine.” She then turned to the chip bowl, sought out the perfect chip and plunged it into the green chili dip. As she began to munch I asked, “Are you lying to me?”
It did not take an extraordinary mental leap to know the answer. Her daughter had unexpectedly died less than two months before and no parent is ever again “fine” after the death of a child. As she finished her bite and stared blankly at me, I berated myself for asking such a stupid question. I wasn’t thinking when I asked the question and had fallen victim to a lack of imagination and awareness when I opted for the standard conversation opener. I watched as she deliberated the many potential responses to the question until finally her shoulders relaxed a bit and she conceded “I’m not doing very well at all.”
That brief preamble served to pave the way for a heartfelt conversation and it also served as a reminder. It was a reminder that there are times in our lives when we walk through our days as imposters. Whether for personal or professional reasons, we force ourselves to move forward and act as if everything is fine and under control. Those times when we put on the “I got it!” mask, apply a protective veneer about our souls and spirits and move ahead fully aware that in fact, nothing is fine or under control. When we know that it would take only the slightest of winds to tear apart the pieces of our lives that are so tenuously held together.
It has taken time for me to finally appreciate that there is nothing wrong with periodically living life as an imposter. Moreover, that there are times when we really don’t have a choice in the matter. We are forced to “act as if” because if we don’t, we might stall out. If we don’t, we might never quite make it back on board this life that is roaring by like an out-of-control train. Sometimes we just have to “fake it ‘til we make it.”
I distinctly remember that flash of clarity when I realized that I was not the only imposter in this world. I was eating lunch outside in Chicago’s infamous Triangle neighborhood and had just confessed to a buddy that I really didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going but I was going to continue doing what I was doing until I figured it out. Without a beat of hesitation, my buddy laughed and said “But Catherine, we are all imposters at some point.” I then looked around and saw all the imposters around us. Everywhere I looked were people walking around, having lunch, enjoying the weather and acting as if everything was under their control. On the outside they embodied that enviable combination of great self-confidence, limitless joy and being far more than just fine. Then I looked more closely. And just there, under the veneers that had been applied, were their many fears, doubts, and insecurities seeping through the cracks. I sat back in my chair and felt an incredible sense of comfort and relief: I was not the only imposter roaming in this world.
Sometimes I still forget and have to be reminded that we are all imposters at some point or another. It is just what is required at times, especially when we need that extra oomph to move us along our path. Whether accepting a new position, raising children, surviving loss, falling in love, or doing something scary. Whenever we invest in life and follow our passions, these are the very circumstances which require, at some level, the conviction of an imposter. After we gain our ground and get to that place where the circumstance feels familiar, it is then possible to transition out of our imposter state and into our chameleon state.