Monday, April 12, 2021

Fear. And loathing.

We live in a strange world. My take is that the people who say aloud that they have "imposter syndrome," are the ones who aren't imposters. And the ones who strut around like the cock-of-the-walk are among the world's biggest shams.

The quotation I'm thinking of is attributed--at least in some places--to Charles Bukowski. But I'm sure people have been expressing the sentiment since Hector was a pup: "The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence."

You could change that sentiment for the ad industry. "The problem with advertising is that the thoughtful people are nervous about everything, while the pretenders strut about."

A lot of the current lingua franca in our business--and every business, I'd suppose, is the imperative to "be brave." To "act bold." To grab the gender-normative bovine by the horns.

Such directives are more than a little bit foolish. First off, any of those behaviors are not like a light switch. You don't just turn them on and off at will.

When you run your own business, it means you're never protected by a phalanx of associates, colleagues, support people and an entire agency. Your name is on the door--even if the door, in this zoomy era, is metaphorical. 

The work springs from your brain. And is made up, at least somewhat, of your world view, passion and miscellaneous chazerai. 

When you enter the room, even if it's just a virtual one, it takes a certain amount of nerve. Your ass is in a sling.

Almost everyone I know and like in our business has techniques for mustering up the nerve. For writing when they could be dawdling, delaying or perseverating. For presenting work to a tough boss or client. For reading to a boss or a client or even a peer something unusual--or even funny.

I handle my own egregious nerves by pretending I'm getting dressed for winter. Before I enter a room--a real or a make-believe one, I put on a heavy overcoat made up of synthetic confidence. It's a pretty good synthetic--and no one can really tell that it's fake. I put on a hat that says "you're smart." And gloves, one says, "you did your homework." While the other says, "you worked your ass off." Maybe some galoshes too. One says, "don't worry." The other says, "they can't hurt you."

I suppose a few decades or even years ago I would have been too embarrassed or timid to say all this publicly. But of late I have been talking to friends of mine in the industry. Some are my age and famous--some of the brighter lights of metaphorical Madison. Some are my kids' age--and will be famous one day.

I've taken to asking them--do you still get nervous.

They usually tap-dance a bit when I ask them. I'm direct, I suppose, in weird ways.

Eventually, they all come clean. They all admit that they do.

So all that Hallmark shit you see on LinkedIn and Twitter about people being brave, about going big, about owning it. All that "you go girl," back-slapping. Fine.

But for most people, it ain't about a bonfire and a pep-rally. It's about taking a few moments and mustering up the courage.

That's about how everyone I know does what they need to do.

I'm 63-years old and never heard the phrase imposter syndrome until about six-months ago or maybe twelve. But of course, it's nothing new.

I remember as a 14-year old--that's almost half-a-century-ago-- making the varsity baseball team and starting at third-base for my high-school nine. Our first game of the season was against a vocational school of long-muscled and sinewy Hispanic kids with hands like wild birds who had won something like ten league championships in the last dozen years.

I think the first five guys in our batting order whiffed, and whiffed badly. The other team was jabbering in the infield, mocking us, mostly in Spanish, to intimidate us even further. It worked.

I walked up to the plate batting sixth, and I was the youngest boy on the team. I'm not sure if my uniform wasn't falling off a bit because I was so bony; I weighed just over 150-lbs--and we still wore flannels in those days, and I had no belt. But I hiked up my pants and I went up to the plate repeating to myself, "they're no better than I am. They're no better than I am. They're no better than I am."

The first pitch came in as chin music. I strained my head to get out of the way. I could hear the buzz like Emily Dickenson and I got scared all over again. And then I repeated my silent incantation and stepped back into the batter's box.

A couple of pitches later I went the other way with a curveball up and hit a hard line-drive over their second baseman's outstretched glove-hand. 

It wasn't much of a hit. But it was my first of my high-school career and our team's first of the season. It didn't exactly open up the floodgates but it helped. I think we still lost 11-4 or something like that--but at least we scored four runs and when we played them again later in the season, I think we might have jumped out to an early lead and even won the ballgame.

There's no denying that there is such a thing as imposter syndrome. I don't know anyone who doesn't have it one time or another. 

Everyone who acts like they ain't got it isn't better than you. 

Just a better liar.

No comments: