I’m a Fraud, I’m Afraid
When my supervisors introduce me in large meetings, they call me the ‘creative genius’ or ‘mother brain’. They gush about my abilities, declare that I can solve all riddles, and proclaim that I am a magical unicorn among horses.
When other designers and copywriters are in the room, my stomach plummets to the floor at these commendations. They’re going to figure it out.
One day, someone is going to discover the truth: nothing I do is really that good.
In my second attempt at college, my professors told me I should continue on and get my doctorate in American Studies. They urged me to think seriously about the option, suggested where I go, and how I make it work. I did not continue on after getting my bachelor’s. Even as I graduated with honors and a 4.0, I waited for the other proverbial shoe to drop.
One day, they’ll actually read through my work and realize: I have no insight and I’m not intelligent.
Toward the end of high school, I put together my portfolio for the my art school applications. I entered my work in local juried scholarship contests, one of which had work from nearly five hundred high school art students. When I won some of the contests — including the one where I competed with nearly five hundred others, I rationalized these were local contests and, therefore, perhaps, the judges didn’t really have the credentials to see what was truly worthy.
One day, they’ll all see it: I have no skill and no vision.
At age eleven, after a drama class play, my grandmother, mother, and the teacher called me a natural. They said I was gifted and my timing was impeccable. Even when the other parents sought me out to tell me how funny I was, I thought: they say this because they have to.
One day, they’ll know: I faked it.
I’m a fraud. I’ve faked my way through it all. And, one of the victims of my lies is me.
I’ve never believed in myself, but I put on a good show. I pretend I’m confident, gregarious, and mindful.
But, in reality, I doubt myself at every turn. I fall flat, in my mind. I am always aware — of myself.
At what point will I give others the credit they deserve and allow them to be correct in their assessment that my work is worthy of praise?
Over the decades, I’ve given in to my self-doubt and constant disbelief of others’ assessments of me and quit nearly every attempt at the things I enjoy — acting, art, writing.
My career was a happy accident. Fifteen-plus years ago, the organization I worked for asked if I would be interested in a job in the marketing department. I grabbed at it since I had been writing math lessons, and I truly hate math. I stuck with it because I found I actually enjoyed it, and needed a salary and health insurance. I have succeeded in this accidental career in many ways — especially from my supervisors’ perspectives.
But, because I learned by doing, I keep waiting for the ‘master’s’ and ‘doctorates’ to out me as an untrained eye, unskilled hand, and inconsistent voice. I learned Illustrator on YouTube, promotional planning from Google, and copywriting from a lot of error. I just learned how to use the mesh tool to make my own shadows. I can calculate ROI, but need a crib sheet. I couldn’t tell you the parts of a sentence if my life depended on it.
I, at times, make excuses for the praise I receive: I work in non-profit so… or it’s just luck…or I’m just doing what anyone would do.
And, I imagine, if ‘for-profit’ ad companies judged my work, I would not be viewed as a ‘mother brain’. After all, for-profit people in my position make much more money than I for much less work than I complete.
At what point do I stop doubting and start affirming myself?
Is there an age when I will finally believe? I’m reaching well-beyond the mid-life point and, yet, I’m still waiting with bated breath for my true self to be revealed to the world. And to me.
More importantly, at what point will I give others the credit they deserve and allow them to be correct in their assessment that my work is worthy of praise?
I’m more than willing to believe anyone’s criticism — when someone finds fault, notes failure, points out the indelible mistakes, no matter who they are, I believe them.
But it’s the praise, the success, the applause that I can’t buy. It’s as though I don’t believe they know enough or have seen enough to judge for themselves. In some ways, their positive assessments are worth less, to me, than any negative critique they’d give me.
And, this may be the true reason I need to be a fraud: failure, disappointment, mistakes — these are safer than success.
At this point in my life, I’m not sure if I will reach a point where I see myself without seeing a fraud. I’m not sure I’ll ever believe the positive more than the negative about me. I am comfortable with being a flop. I am happy to list my failings — give me an hour and I will give you a rundown of all the areas where I fall short. Spend a little longer with me and I’ll go into detail.
And, this may be the true reason I need to be a fraud: failure, disappointment, mistakes — these are safer than success. No shoe will ever drop because it’s already on the ground. No expectations will be set because I’ve already proven myself unworthy of them. I can’t fail because I never succeeded.
But I have.
In reality, my colleagues, friends, family, and partner think I’m successful and talented. Am I a magical unicorn, mother brain, creative genius? They might think so. Maybe one day I will, too. Or, at least, accept their assessments as believable.
Right now, though, I’m afraid I’m still more comfortable thinking I’m a fraud.