I don’t know who needs to hear this, but listen. This one is for you. Pull your chair closer. Sit up straight and pay attention.
You with me? Good.
It’s ok to struggle. It’s ok to feel weak, to be overwhelmed. It’s ok to look at the people around you, at stable adults with good jobs and clean homes and well-behaved children, and wonder just how they maintain such perfect lives. It’s ok to work your tail off and still have moments of self-doubt. It’s ok to be tired. It’s ok to try and fail and try again.
It’s ok to be honest– better than ok. It’s ok to let your mask slip, to let the cracks show on your carefully constructed outward persona.It’s a great thing to be humble, to be able to laugh at your own quirks, to give grace to others for theirs.It’s ok to be wrong sometimes, to learn to lose arguments with dignity or at least to recognize that you can’t always win. Sometimes the best you can hope for is a peaceful stalemate.
It’s ok to take honest pride in the things you are good at; false, sniveling self-depreciation is neither healthy nor wise. It’s ok to accept praise from others as well as criticism, and to maintain a healthy distance from both. It’s ok to ask for help from others when it comes to things you’re less good at. As U2 wisely pointed out, “sometimes you can’t make it on your own.”
It’s ok to feel incompetent and to press on anyway. It’s ok to ask hard questions, so long as you’re willing to wrestle with the equally hard answers when you come to them. It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to be tired. It’s ok to be confused.
I’m not the first to observe that our culture is one that’s very driven by external appearances. This is true for the high school kids I teach. It’s true for the adults I work with. “Fake it till you make it,” as the saying goes– and there’s certainly a degree of truth to that. We become what we aspire to be, and our choices ultimately define us. We put one foot in front of the other, and we keep going, confidently, boldly, into the future.
And yet, sometimes you can’t fake it. Sometimes you shouldn’t. That’s ok, too.
Fantasist Neil Gaiman summed this idea up nicely in his novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane: “I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”
Sometimes (as I am attempting in this blog post), honesty really is the best policy. Let your show of confidence drop, at least for a moment. Letting others see your struggle may give them the comfort and courage they need to get through theirs. Real recognize real, dontchaknow.
I’m teaching at a new school this year and, although it’s been a positive change in literally every possible aspect, I’m struggling with feeling overwhelmed. I have a new set of policies to learn, a new set of curricula to draw from, and new lesson plans to write. I have a new culture to find my place in, new kids whose trust I need to gain, new colleagues whose esteem I crave. I know, deep down, that I’m knowledgeable and well trained and experienced. I’m a professional, dash it all! I’m good at what I do– but today I’ve been struck so hard with crippling self-doubt (paradoxically worrying that I’m both too easy and too hard on my students) that it’s almost like a physical weight. Even knowing that the fact of my being hired wasn’t a fluke or an accident– I was selected because my employers believe I am a good fit for the job– I still worry from time to time that I’ve bit off more than I can chew.
That’s ok. It really is. Tomorrow I’ll be back on top of the world. We all go through difficult seasons. The struggle is not what defines us, ultimately– What we do with it is.
I know I’m not the only one. There are many people who feel like me. You might be one. You might need to hear this. Real recognize real. Take my hand. I’ll help you keep standing if you help me out. Together, we can do this. Put one foot in front of the other. One step at a time.
Fake it till you make it, baby. But don’t lose heart, because the rest of us are faking it too.