In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown suggests silencing the voices in your head—the ones trying squelch your greatness—by naming them. I went a step further.
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I’m old Aggie. You know how in a dream, someone’s someone but they look just like someone else’s cousin or whatever? Well, my name is old Aggie and I look just like Nancy Kleinfeld*. that horrible lady your parents left you with for a week in the fifth grade. Honestly, I don’t know why they did that either. I never liked kids. And you and your brother and sister, well you were no exception. Don’t take it personally. I don’t really like people, period.
I carry a battle ax. I’m getting old and I’m not super sharp anymore but hell you don’t have to be all that sharp to damage something that’s weak in the first place. I sit around watching The Food Network and smoking Marlboros most of the time but don’t let that fool ya. I’m always listening with half an ear for you, Pam. I can hear everything in your mind. Most of that shit, I don’t care about. (Really? The perfect legging? The best way to make salmon? SNOOZER!) but when you sit down to write, that’s when I put old Emeril on mute. Then I listen up good.
When you’re trying to be funny, that’s when I like to remind you, you can’t force humor. That you’re no Tina Fey.
When you’re trying to come up with new ideas of what to write about, I’m fond of reminding you there’s nothing new, and if there is, you’re not gonna be the one to come up with it.
When you’re in that moment of trying to get into that piece that was so brilliant and fresh in your mind, I’m proud to say I’m the reason it looks like doo-doo once you start typing.
See, you don’t know it’s me but I’m whispering, real subliminal-like, You’re a hack. Real writers write every single day. You’re a wannabe.
I like whacking my axe against your writing because, well it’s just so easy to do. And like I said, I don’t like people. And I like to give the cooking shows a rest once in a while.
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I’m Julia. I’m perfect. My skin is constantly dewy, my hair is beach wave perfect from the moment I wake up and I don’t have to consult Pinterest to figure out how to cuff my skinny jeans with booties. I could wear pants as a scrunchie and I would still be hot. I hang out around mirrors with a dagger. I’ll never actually puncture your skin with the dagger, you know that. I do that thing your brother used to do to you, where he’d poke his finger within an inch of your body repeatedly, while saying “I’m not touching you,” which technically was true, over and over.
When you come near mirrors I put down my nonfat grande sugar-free vanilla latte and poke at you with my little dagger and whisper stuff like, “I need to eat less,” “Have I always looked like this,” “Why do I look so tired?” “My stomach is gross,” and “Everyone in this town looks like a fitness model I should just move to Tulsa so I could maybe be happier.” It’s so fun because you think you’re saying these things to yourself. I mean it used to be more fun. I don’t know what happened lately, though. I haven’t seen you as much. I’m getting bored. It might be time to pack up and hang out with someone else.
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Hey remember me? Jenny Fuckface,** your lacrosse coach from high school. I married a hedge fund manager whom I loathe.*** I also hate my kids and my life. And I’m still bulimic. Oh did you not know I was bulimic back then? Yep, I was. Still am. My life is a pile of shit. My hobbies are Percoset, shopping binges, and torturing you. I carry a big hedge clipper in my purse and I get it out whenever you think about being a run coach. I like to just trim back all those ideas about you helping people, about you having any special knowledge or expertise. I like to keep all those visions tiny, tiny, tiny, trimmed back to just a sliver, if that. My clippers could use some sharpening or maybe I should cut back on the pills because I’m not as powerful as I used to be.
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We all have mean voices in our heads, trying to keep us small. This is part of why Impostor Syndrome is so tricky. (You knew this was going to be about Impostor Syndrome this whole time, didn’t you?) You hear these voices over and over and over again, and after a while, it’s hard to tell the difference between them and the truth (e.g. you are great, you might as well try, the worst thing that could possibly happen if you fail probably isn’t even that bad). Even the greatest people in the world deal with Impostor Syndrome. Did you know John Steinbeck wrote in his journal, “I’m not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.”? JOHN. STEINBECK.
I’m giving a talk on Impostor Syndrome at Flatirons Running this Wednesday 1/18 at 7pm, right after the 6pm fun run. I’m going to explain what Impostor Syndrome is, how to determine if you have it, and offer strategies so you can move through it reach your goals—in sport and in life—right now. It’s free, it will be fun, and you don’t have to show up for the run. They are going to raffle off some prizes, including a copy of my book. I hope to see you there!
*name changed to protect the meanest nanny in Pawtucket, Rhode Island ca. 1990
**name changed to protect the most vapid, self-absorbed high school coach I’d like to punch in the face.
***I actually have no idea who she actually married or what happened to her.
**** She seemed unhappy and maybe this was because she was hungry/had heartburn but I’m just surmising.