Imposter Syndrome vs. Not Being Good Enough vs. Figuring Shit Out

Most days, I feel lost and hopeless. In between those days, there are moments where I get into Csikszentmihalyi-esque “flow” and I see, through all the mess of the dark-thorned forest, a clearing at the end of the tunnel – a life where I can be GOOD at my job on a consistent basis, get paid well for it, and afford a decent life in one of the most expensive places to live in the world.

I write this from one of my favorite gourmet supermarkets. Walking down the carefully-organized aisles filled with perfectly stacked imports and local delicacies, I acknowledge that this is a life I have to fight for, tooth and nail, mostly on my own. With my husband going back to school for teaching he’ll be in the $45k-$50k salary range starting out, so it’s up to me to make the life I want – to be able to afford a house in the Bay Area (or a nice enough rental in a safe neighborhood) for my future family to live in. Some days, in between the gloom and doom of telling myself I’m on the verge of getting fired and that my boss hates me, I think – damn it, maybe I actually know what I’m doing. Maybe I deserve my salary (or at least, I deserve it as much as the next person would have asked for it) – and I CAN DO THIS.

I think I need to start getting all movie mirror-scene pep talk dramatic and stare myself down each morning saying “you got this, fool.” And maybe I do. My business is a complex one. I understand a lot of the moving parts and how they fit together. I need to get better at data & analytics and proving what I do works. If I can merge that with my creative vision and ability to execute (when I do execute) the sky is the limit. Companies need people who can approach this field with a right-left brain blend. Too many people are one or the other. Maybe, just maybe, if I can hone my neuroticism and procrastination and ADHD and social anxiety, I can be great.

But – it’s just this desire to be great that is the problem. I sat in on a conference session recently that discussed burnout – and one of the first reasons for burnout, the session leader shared, is feeling like you constantly have to prove that you’re really, really good. I read somewhere else this past week that when you’re feeling disillusioned by your job, focus on  doing quality work and you’ll start enjoying it.

I love, and I’ve always loved, solving problems. I love putting the pieces together. My communication style is a disaster and while I can trying to sociopath it up and become someone I’m not it really just doesn’t work. I’m a disaster. I speak out of turn. I say “sorry” and “cool” way too much and every time they trip out of my mouth I kick myself. My hair is always sticking out in spots it shouldn’t be and heck if I have any makeup on to make me look like a grown up female executive – if I do its lipstick that is half worn off because I don’t have the intuition to reapply it on a regular basis.

Because I SUCK at the social aspects of work, I need to be that much better at the “doing” aspects. Either you’re Mrs. Charisma or Mrs. Fucking Brilliant but you better be one of them. Otherwise, you’re Mrs. doing the shit no one else wants to do who got ahead.

I got this. I can do this. I can be this.

Will I get fired this year? Normally I have good intuition on this type of thing. I’m completely perplexed on the status of my current job. I know my boss thinks I’m paid too much (I negotiated very well and at the time they needed the hire that much that my ask was reasonable – but I’m sure I just look like a walking hot mess of a cost center to my boss. If I can make money – a lot of money – for the business, I’m safe. But I have to not only do this effectively, I have to prove that I was the forcing function of this new business without coming across as I’m trying to hog credit for it. Everytime I discuss attribution and credit I sound like a whiney little bitch. I just want to be able to show what I’m doing is working, and to have the data to support that I’m worth my keep and then some.

It’s the constant drama the really grates at me. Some of it is all in my head, I’m sure, but not all of it. And I don’t even blame my boss for interviewing behind my back. I’ve had a few rough months. He could have cut the chord a lot sooner. Either he believes I still have something to contribute (which I do) or he just doesn’t want to get rid of me aesthetically until he has a really solid replacement – and he is hesistant to remove the only woman from the leadership team without another female to replace her. I don’t like to play the woman card, but it may be playing for me right now, among all other reasons why I’m still in the game.

I’ve been at the job for about nine months now. In a large company, I’d be considered barely onboarded at this point. In a small company, it feels like I’ve been here decades. My contributions or only as valuable as my relationships, and my relationships suck. I can’t handle building work friendships while I’m focused on getting my stuff done. I don’t know how to make small or medium-sized talk. I get caught up in drama too easy. It’s fun to be friendly with my direct reports (who are both awesome peeps, btw) as they share some of the gossip around the office with me without my prying. I need to be friendly but not too friendly. Boss-like but not too bossy. My general schtick is to gain respect through inspiration. It’s my only hope. Idiot Savant is my chosen work persona. Work can be art. My passion is hopefully contagious. I hope to inspire the best out of my team, even though at times I may drive them nuts. I think of all the bad bosses I’ve had in my life and look to my young direct reports and think to myself – if they only knew just how good of a boss I am.

For now, I’m confused on next steps. I have been on-and-off interviewing for jobs because I’m scared this one isn’t stable. If I felt like I was really stable in this position I would do a lot better work because I’d spend less time freaking out about losing my job and being judged at every turn. But I can’t ask for that because that’s not how small companies work – as Heidi Klum would say – one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out. That’s just how it goes. And that’s why I’m a ball of stress.

I wonder what it would take for me to consistently rock it out for a full quarter. I mean, plan out my weeks, know exactly what I want to accomplish and get it done, show up early, leave late, maybe wake up even earlier to put some product in my natural frizzball Peyot. How hard would it be to just take a deep breath and sprint for 12 weeks? If I can do that now, it gets me to nearly the end of the year. It gets me to my one year mark. And it quite possibly can get me to some serious success metrics to fuel more confidence in both myself personally and hopefully from my superiors.

It’s really really hard to save yourself when you’re already on death row in the mind of your boss, but that’s when you just have to sink or swim. Usually I let it all get to me and I drown. I really want this time to not be like that. It means so much to me. Maybe my boss doesn’t see that yet. Maybe he thinks I don’t try hard enough. And perhaps I don’t in between the times that I do. But I want it. I know that I’m so incredibly fortunate to have a job like that and to be nearing 33 and to be basically looking at 30+ years where I can build my career as a VP and, if I’m really good, earn $250k+ per year in the very near future. Not that I’m doing this all for the money – but a stable $250k+ means I can afford a house here. It won’t be luxurious by any means, but it will be a house of my own which even though financially speaking I know is a horrible investment I really want because I’m tired of living in apartments where Mr. HECC and I avoid buying new furniture until we’re more settled down (so we deal with a 5+ year old Craiglist sofa and a 10 year old bed and a kitchen table that doesn’t match the chairs and IKEA furniture that’s old and falling apart that I didn’t put together correctly in the first place.)

I got this. You got this. Yes, bitch, you can do this.

Maybe I need to be on drugs. My therapist told me I should take Ativan as it would solve all my problems. I emailed my doctor and she gave me a prescription for 6 pills, said to take a half one when I felt anxious and told me I had to come see her in order to get more. I hate pills. I cut the half of the pill in half again. A chunk dusted off. I swallowed it and went about my day. Soon after, I began to feel a bit, well, ok. Then I felt sleepy. My body felt weak, like I hadn’t slept in days. I came home and curled up in bed and slept for four hours on Saturday afternoon after I actually got a pretty good night’s sleep the evening before. Pills fuck me up.

I got to do this without pills. I got this… without pills. I don’t need no stinking pills.

Getting stuff done makes me feel really freaking fantastic. Better than pills. Being DONE with things. Even if I’m being a perfectionist and those things are damn great when they finally get done I just LOVE being DONE. I love every pixel being in the right place and every word telling the right story. I love staying up all night to get a giant project done because nothing feels better than putting all that energy into something until it’s complete. No stops and starts. Just start and go and go and go and go… until you’re done.

My dream house here is probably $1.6M. That means I need a $320k downpayment and my monthly mortgage will be sky high and I better have security in my job before ever taking that kind of plunge. It won’t seem like a giant house, but it will have at least three bedrooms and two bathrooms and a private backyard area where I can go out and enjoy the sun without worrying about someone coming to bother me. It will have a very nice kitchen so I am inspired to cook all the time and a bathroom that is designed to be my sanctuary. And I’ll work for it. I’ll earn that shit. I’ll look at my home and know that it’s mine because I fought through all the anxiety and depression and insecurity and lack of ability and I made it. I’m still making it. I’ve got it made.

That’s a fantasy. I can’t see that every really happening. I’ll never be stable enough to have that life. Maybe, if I do buy property, it will be an $800k condo. I can’t buy property when I’m this freaking bipolar. I can’t commit to anything that I can’t get out of easily. That isn’t a bad thing. I’ve committed to Mr. HECC and I’m happy with that decision. I need to stop dreaming big because it will never come to be and if I’m ever so manic enough that I actually do make such a financial commitment you can bet that epic depression is to come soon after, when I come back down to earth and realize what the fuck I did.

I don’t actually got this. I’ll never actually have it. If I’m lucky, I can break apart my life into one-week segments, agile sprints where I have goals that I commit to and I get them done and I try at the end of the week to pat myself on the back silently for a job well done or at least – well, done. If I want my $1.6M dream home – you know what I need? $1.6M. I need enough in the bank where I can buy it outright even if I don’t. Of course, by the time I have that much that $1.6M house will be more like $2.5M to purchase — unless I can work faster and smarter and build up my brand and just be great at what I do. It’s my only hope. Either get to $250k+ in salary and save as much as possible OR move far away from this amazing place to somewhere more affordable, rent or own a small house, and just be like most of the rest of the world, which isn’t a bad thing at all, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet. It’s fresh out of the dryer and ready for another fight.

 

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