I was six months pregnant with twins when I drafted a report about the home mortgage interest rate deduction for the Oregon Legislature. I was working as a research assistant for a progressive think tank at the time, but now, I couldn't tell you much about the report I wrote seven years ago. Here’s something I wrote in the report:
Low income taxpayers are more likely to choose the standard deduction over itemizing because their income bracket puts them at a lower marginal tax rate, making it more likely that the lower income taxpayer would see a higher savings by taking the standard deduction.
Full disclosure: I now have no clue what this means. But it’s clear to me that at one time I was a very smart person who was, no doubt, doing very good work.
Here’s something else you need to know:
The whole time I worked for that think tank, I felt like a fraud. It took every ounce of focus and concentration I could muster to decipher spreadsheet after spreadsheet of tax estimates by district, itemized standard deductions and tax incentives for home ownership. I liken the work to trying to breathe under water. It just didn’t come naturally to me.
Because I was trying to breathe under water, and I was getting paid by the hour, I worried the report was taking me too much time compared to the other analysts, so I lied about my hours, short-changing myself in the process.
In fact, I was worrying I wouldn’t get the report done on time the day my mom had her final intravenous Herceptin treatment, which was being used in her fight against Stage 2 breast cancer.
It had been over a year since she had been diagnosed and I had made it to every one of her chemo treatments. I had been there for each of the five follow-up Herceptin treatments too. But this time, worried that if I missed the deadline, my boss would find out I really wasn’t a natural born policy wonk, I didn’t go. “I have to finish the report,” I apologized to her over the phone that day.
And I finished it that afternoon.
That night, my brother came to the house unannounced. When he walked through the door his face was white. “Mom is in the hospital. Dad found her in bed and she wasn’t breathing.”
Four days later we watched as they took her off life support. And just like that she was gone.
Three months later, the twins were born. I was grieving the loss of my mom while adjusting to a new existence as a mom: sleep deprived, surrounded by breast pump equipment, feeding schedules and books like What to Expect the First Year. It was under these conditions that I finally broke down and admitted to myself the truth: I didn’t care.
I didn’t care about the home mortgage interest rate deduction.
I didn’t care enough about public policy to ever be a policy wonk.
I didn’t even care about the price of gas for that matter.
All I really wanted to do was read about past life regression, near death experiences and angelic encounters.
Up until this moment I had never touched a self help book let alone allowed myself to go near the woo-woo titles.
But now, reading that stuff came as naturally to me as breathing. One book led to another which ultimately led me to the work of Martha Beck and her life coach training.
What I realize now is that I felt like a fraud because I was a fraud. I was pretending to be someone else so that I could compensate for the nagging voice of self doubt inside me that continuously whispered, You aren’t good enough, you aren’t smart enough, you aren’t competent enough. And it wasn’t until I lost something precious to me that I was able to see the truth:
As long as you’re using your work as a way to justify your existence you’ll always feel like you’re breathing under water. You’ll work yourself to the bone mustering every ounce of strength you can to perform to the impossible standards you set for yourself and even if you do reach them, you’ll never feel satisfied. But one thing you can bank on: you’ll lose something very dear to you. You’ll lose your SELF.
Here are three things to do right NOW if you feel like a fraud:
1. Ask yourself, Are you actually inspired by what you do?
Maybe there's a skill set you’re trying to perfect or a credential you’re paying thousands of dollars for … Whatever it is, know that there’s a difference between taking inspired action and trying to perfect yourself out of fear that you aren’t enough.
2. Do an inventory.
Where in your life do you feel like you’re drowning and are struggling to come up for air? It’s hard to feel like a fraud when you spend your time in your element. If you constantly feel like you’re going against the grain it’s probably a sign that you should be doing something else.
What kinds of things bring your energy and inspire you? Know the difference and allocate your time accordingly.
3. Stop trying to prove yourself.
Excuse me while I offer you some tough love. Chances are you feel like a fraud because, well, you’re acting like one. Let’s get real, are you “pretending” to be someone you’re not to prove yourself to other people? Trying to prove yourself is a form of approval seeking that makes you feel like an imposter in your own life -- you’re trying to get other people to see you a certain way so that you can feel good about yourself.