I Am A Fraud

This is a joint post with Don Pizarro. His take on feeling like a fraud can be found at …an emperor with no clothes

I’m a fraud. I don’t deserve to be here.

Those were the thoughts, on repeat, in my head as I left the bar. It was Friday night, Boston, my first ReaderCon. I’d been drinking with friends, old and new, discussing writing, music, fandom, relationships.

Normal-people stuff.

Apparently, no one guessed that I’d been so afraid to walk into the room that I’d paused outside, literally too sick with fear to move. But the group was filled with genuinely wonderful people, and I at least stopped cuddling my wine so closely.

After a while, Don Pizarro and I, in desperate need of coffee, took our leave of the group to venture into the depths of Cambridge. By this time, my hands were trembling, my voice was trembling, my heart was trembling too.

Silence reigned for a few moments, and then we both let out a deep breath. One of us made a comment about being a fraud. Suddenly, words couldn’t come fast enough. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were both breathing a little better.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been crippled by these fears. I hate it, having lost out on opportunities because of it. I tell myself, other people tell me, that I’m talented, that I deserve to be here.

But, when you’re standing in a room of some of the best writers and editors in ‘the business’, it suddenly crashes down. “I haven’t done all that much.” “I don’t deserve to be here.” “I’m not worth talking to.” “Ooo, I like this corner. No one will trip over me here.”

I have an excuse, in a way. Words are my life, my love, my perspective on life.

If I have a religion, it is a religion of the mind. I worship the weird, the jagged, the extreme and tortured and shocking. Not for the shock value itself, but because of their courage in looking at the fringe.

I’m a synesthete. Reading The Scar was emotional, physical. Words are experience, touch, taste, scent, sound. I am there. I am there because someone went there first, led me by the hand into a world only they could imagine.

So when you are standing in a room of your idols and heroes and role models, it’s hard to keep perspective. I was raised with a keen understanding of my own inadequacy, and the respect and distance awarded to age, experience and talent. Added to that, my personal devotion to their work, and the pedestal has soared perilously close to the ceiling, and I’ve forgotten that they are just like the rest of us, award-winning or not.

We raise them on too high a pedestal. Not that they aren’t that good, not that they aren’t worthy of respect, admiration or perhaps a little awe, but because they are not gods, but humans.

I’ve talked to many authors, many people I respect. From each, I hear a variation on the same tale. Their path was no different from ours. They have struggled, and failed. Picked themselves back up, dusted off, taken another run at the next hurdle. They have collapsed beside the trail and cried, and wailed, and berated their gods for callous indifference.

They have felt like frauds, like failures. They have made stupid mistakes. They have stood up, squared their shoulders, and kept going.

That emphasis is necessary. Too many of us shamble through life, afraid that our incompetence will show, that someone will realize we didn’t come through the same door that everyone else did.

But we did all come through that door. We just couldn’t see it because of all the people blocking our view of the empty door, and the sign over it, saying The Right Way.

It isn’t a matter of success or failure, of genuine talent or hackery. It is a matter of honesty, within as much as without.

You will never succeed because someone else believes in you.

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