Don Rogers: The secret to life, and shoes
Does the “I’m not worthy” voice ever go away?
Alas, not for me. So my strategies and tactics for myself concern forging ahead anyway. Into the water, into the fire, into new towns, writing and sometimes performing the task that frightens some people more than death itself — speaking to a crowd. I don’t know about death, but at least as scary as a shy teen asking that goddess out.
None of it got easier as I matured. A best friend had to nudge me to ask the woman who became my wife if she’d go to dinner with me. I was 26, I thought too old for butterflies. But unworthiness flew with the bugs in my belly. Surely others didn’t get so nervous about such things. Why did I?
Similar dread struck my first day walking into The Union office in Grass Valley on May 2, 2016. Seventeen years in Vail, my town, my paper, my people, still exciting every day for sure, but known, let’s say. What in the hell got into me to uproot and upend? Who was I to pop through the front door and presume to lead?
Earliest memories: Monsters under the bed and in the closet, my parents trying to kill me with swimming lessons I believed surely would lead to the drowning I deserved during the next terrifying dunk. I was ridiculously old, 10 or 11, before daring the deep end. What was wrong with me?
A few years ago, I scored critically low in the self-assurance portion of an emotional intelligence survey. My fellow publishers thought plenty of themselves by comparison. Aha! There was something wrong with me! Knew it!
Then again, the research shows clear as climate change that humans generally are overconfident morons, believing ourselves fully rational creatures. Maybe I’m just more in touch with our bedrock stupidity.
That or my colleagues fibbed, hanging on to some hokum about never letting a negative thought fire among their neurons. Imposter syndrome is sly, the psychology complicated. Posing runs directly from insecurity.
I always could tick off my flaws, my shortcomings, my cowardice. I’m not sure this is a bad thing. Something so ingrained must have its uses. For one, I’ve never been mistaken for the smartest person in the room.
But what possessed me as an adult to surf house-sized swells a half-mile offshore? What drove me to firefighting, the most extreme I could find? And not just derring-do, but writing when teachers so plainly established I couldn’t? For a living at that. What made me think I could lead others, firefighters on the line, journalists more talented, educated and experienced than me?
And how in the world did I win over that young woman? We’re going on 34 years now, some kind of miracle.
These are the deeper mysteries, considering cowardice and unworthiness have held firm all along. I’m still the child about to be dunked underwater, certain it had to be something I said or did. I should be perpetually tucked in the fetal position by now.
When I write well, I just know it will never happen again. I’ll surely be exposed at this posting for a fraud. I’d never find the balls now to paddle out on a big day. My children never loved me.
How does one beat back these notions, silly and dead-on alike? Put on a happy face, a power stance, whistle until I’m feelin’ it, pick your uplifting slogan? None of that works. I don’t gain confidence with repetition. Can’t be coached into belief. My BS meter is too sensitive.
So what is it? Why face the day, always an ice-cold pond, and leap? Maybe it’s a bit of knowledge, some lame metaphor, faith. Oh, it also turns out I don’t care so much what you think of me, judging this none of my business. Add self-absorption, then.
But I know I’m not alone. Many doubt themselves, maybe most. This is good knowledge to have.
My lame metaphor has to do with the ocean, hard won from surfing and sailing, dealing with forces much stronger than me. With sail and rudder, slipping into the right currents, we can still steer our way.
As for faith, some find their way through Jesus, and this is miraculous. But faith is both larger and more particular than a religion can hold. Atheists have plenty of faith without biblical belief. Hitching oneself to higher purpose has the same effect.
Or it may be I just get sick of hearing me tell myself what I can’t possibly do and exactly why. So screw it, I’m jumping in anyway. Life’s to be lived, not to hide from.
Oh my God, I’m living a Nike slogan.
Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, Lake Wildwood Independent and Sierra Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.