We’re All Frauds, and That’s Okay

Photo Credit: Flickr, Alan Cleaver

We’ve all been there. You’re talking to someone, maybe a friend or coworker, or even applying for some sort of job, and behind your smile, you’re terrified that they’ll see straight through you and realize that you’re not only in over your head, you’re drowning.

It’s like there is a flashing neon sign hanging over your head, screaming, “This person is a faker! They’re not really a marine biologist / empress of Canada!” while flashing every alert and waving every red flag ever conceived.

And that’s okay. It’s called imposter syndrome, and it’s a normal part of the creative process.

Unless you’re deliberately trying to take advantage of or harm the person, in which case, let me just say this:

NO! BAD DOG! *hits you with a comically large rolled-up phone book*

Side note: Phone books were thick paper volumes of names and telephone numbers in the days before contact lists, cell phones, and fancy coffee. Ask your parents.

But if all you’re doing is trying to present the best version of yourself, feeling like you’re a fraud, while totally normal and understandable, is your inner bully trying to shake you down for lunch money. Only in this metaphor, the lunch money is your confidence and potential success, and your inner bully is a big ball of imposter syndrome made up of all the little fears, doubts, and insecurities swirling around your subconscious.

But the good thing about this bully is that he can’t punch us in the nose or dump us in a garbage can if we choose to ignore his taunting. The only one who can hurt us is ourselves, by listening to him and believing him when he says that we’re not the marine empress of biology and never will be, so don’t bother even trying.

And you know what? Just because you’re not an artist or writer or programmer or empress of Canada right now, it doesn’t mean that it’s out of your reach forever.

Yeah, you’re a fraud. So am I. But that shouldn’t stop you from fighting for your dreams or becoming who you want to be. So, straighten your tiara, dump in the ocean, write some words, or take whatever the next step is between where you are now and where you want to be.

I’ll be right behind you, just as soon as I figure out what to do with this phone book I have left over from 1993.

Have you ever felt like a fraud? If so, what did you do to overcome it? Leave a note in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

Every Journey Begins At Level One

Every Journey Begins At Level One

I play a lot of video games, so some things are much easier for me to get a handle on when they are restructured in gaming terms. As part of my big 2016 Epic Life Relaunch Of Awesome (patent and details pending), I have put a great deal of thought into exactly how I plan on making all the life changes I have decided upon when I don’t exactly have a great track record of sticking to habits, maintaining resolutions, or even finishing sentenc-

Hey, look! A squirrel!

What was I saying? Oh, right. Video games and building good habits.

The idea of gamification has been around for a while, and there have been countless books, blog posts, and apps written about it, so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about how it works. This post is about how to take those ideas to start again with a mindset more geared toward success. This is how I plan on achieving my various goals, and I hope it helps you as well.

At Level One, You Have Nowhere To Go But Up

In (almost) every role-playing game, whether it be tabletop, pen-and-paper, or pixelized on the screen, your character begins at level 1. You have a rusty old sword, no armor to speak of, and a high likelihood of being wiped out by the first knoll, goblin, or slime to cross your path. To be blunt, it sucks. You can’t rush off to complete any quests, you can’t fight any boss monsters, and the loot tables are more likely to reward you with an old bucket for your efforts than a +5 Magical Sword of Stabbing Stuff.

But you can beat up rats, complete tiny little mini-quests, and wander around doing minor tasks to gain experience points.

The same applies to your big life goals. For example: I want to lose weight. A lot of weight. Maybe more than you weigh. I’ve tried for years and always failed. Lately, I’ve begun to think that it’s because I aimed too high. I gripped my -1 Dagger of Suckage, pulled on my Pantaloons of Disappointment, and charged right into Castle Weight Loss. And I got my substantial rear end handed to me along with a side of curly fries.

So, how do you avoid my mistake? You start small. You complete mini-quests. You take a sack lunch to work instead of eating out. +5 experience. You go for a five-minute walk. +10 experience. You make a healthy dinner at home instead of picking up a bag of burgers. +25 experience.

It adds up. Seriously.

Restarting At Level One Lets You Start Over

Like me, you’ve probably tried (and failed) to accomplish a major goal. You’re disappointed, disheartened, and probably wondering whether or not you will ever have the willpower, time, or whatever else you feel you did not have in sufficient quantities to complete your task. So, the next time you try, you start even farther back from where you began. Maybe you weigh more, maybe you haven’t written in ages, or maybe you’re on the verge of transforming into some kind of wombat and have a powerful urge to run off into the forest.

I think that’s what happened to that one newscaster who gave up his job. You know, the one with the hair who read the news?

Forget all that. Take an amnesia potion, turn a new page, and re-roll your character. None of that matters any more. You’re starting over, and this time will be different. This time, you’re going to break down that epic quest of awesome into bite-size single steps of reasonability, and you’re going to start working your way a little at a time every day until you reach level two, level three, and so on until you reach maximum level and build a throne out of swords or dragon hide or Lego bricks.

Forgive yourself and start again. The mountain is high, but you’re wearing sensible shoes.

Every Hero Starts At Level One

No one is born a hero. J.K. Rowling didn’t come into the world with the first three Harry Potter novels plotted, Scott Kelly’s first words weren’t, “Hi, Mom. I’m going to be an astronaut,” and Abraham Lincoln was not born with the Emancipation Proclamation in-hand (though he did have the top hat; thanks, Wikipedia!). They all started at level one and worked their way up. That’s the way everyone does it, and you are no different than them.

Though you may not have as magnificent a top hat as Lincoln, but finding one can be a quest if you want it to.

They worked their way up from the beginning, they put in the work, and they crawled and scraped and fought their way to epic status. There is nothing preventing you from doing the same other than whatever limitations you place on yourself.

The Chinese Ming Dynasty did not build the great wall without a massive amount of effort divided into a million tiny improvements. They just kept putting one more brick in the wall (as described in the Pink Floyd audio-documentary) until they were done. You won’t lose a hundred pounds or write your novel or change the world without your own massive effort, but no one ever said you had to do it in a day, or that you were a failure if you couldn’t do it all at once.

Choose a healthy sandwich over a burger and fries? You’re a winner.

Wrote 500 words on that novel you’ve been dreaming about? You’re a winner, too.

It won’t be fast, it won’t be easy, and there is no shame in killing slimes until you level up and can fight stronger battles.

Just keep at it a little at a time. You will get there eventually.

So, what sort of epic quest are you undertaking? Are you writing a novel, building muscle, starting a business? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to like and share this post on social media. Thanks for reading, and full steam ahead!

Why Depression Is Like A Bond Villain

Why Depression Is Like A Bond Villain

Like many people of creative persuasion, I have spent the majority of my life fighting against Depression in its various forms. When I was younger, I didn’t see it for what it was, but now that I have a few years and a few miles behind me, I am better equipped to see things for what they are, especially things that wander around in masks like every day is Halloween or some (even more) twisted version of Eyes Wide Shut. Depression is one of those things, and I think it can be summed up like this:

Depression isn’t just that jerk pretending to be your friend who deep down wants you to fail. Depression is a Bond villain, and we, dear readers, are 007.

But instead of going on wild adventures to exotic places, drinking vodka martinis (shaken, obviously), and playing with all manner of cool gadgets, we just end up sitting in the dark, clutching a blanket, hating ourselves, and eating ourselves into oblivion.

Still not sure about the parallels? Let me break it down.

Depression’s Influence Is All Over Your Story

In a (good) Bond film, the invisible fingers of the villain are there from nearly the very first scene. While it may not seem related at first, Dr. Depression is a cunning sort who is always there, watching from the shadows and manipulating events as if playing an elaborate board game.

Dr. Depression knows that after a bad day at work, the last thing you want to do is go home to a healthy meal, a shower, and some downtime. The lights on the drive-thru fast food joint appear a little brighter, the French fries and quadruple bacon cheeseburger look a little tastier, and by Dawkins, you deserve a little reward after dealing with that nasty client or surviving another day, don’t you?

Of course, once the food is gone, you’re left with nothing but a stomachache, a credit card bill you didn’t need, and 5,000 calories more than you’d planned on eating. And all the while, Dr. Depression just sits back, smiling and stroking his pet honey badger while you sit in a pool of self-hatred.

Depression Lies. A Lot. Just to Be Evil.

And that’s when the whispers begin.

In the back of your mind, the voice of Dr. Depression is incessant. He whispers nothing but lies, and we believe them because they reinforce what we already tell ourselves.

You’re weak.

Nothing you do matters

You don’t deserve to be loved.

And the big one…

You do deserve to feel miserable.

None of those things are true, but we still believe them. And even if we find the strength to voice those fears aloud and are told by someone who cares that they are lies, we continue to believe them. That’s because Dr. Depression is a very good liar. He has been doing it for a long time, and we have always been the target.

Depression Plans Elaborate Ways To Hurt You

Near the climax of every James Bond film, our hero finds himself trapped in some sort of elaborate death trap. He may be strapped to a table with a laser ready to cut him in half. Maybe he’s chained to a pipe in a room rapidly filling with water.

The first Austin Powers movie spoofed this brilliantly with the platform that casually lowered the heroes into a pool of water filled with ill-tempered mutated sea bass.

Well, Dr. Depression has similar plans for us, but they are usually more conniving, more subtle, and far more difficult to escape. Part of the reason is that we are, on a subconscious level, complicit in his plans.

Dr. Depression wants to hurt us, and because he has us so thoroughly convinced that we deserve it, our subconscious brains are more than happy to play Jones to Dr. Depression’s Dr. No.

While we may not be on the verge of being sawn in half, we face elaborate traps of our own.

Let’s say you’re in the office and it’s someone’s birthday, so there’s a cake. Being that cake is awesome (though still not as good as pie), you want a piece. But you want to lose weight, and after hours of research, you know very well just how many empty calories are in that cake, so you say no.

But you want it, and you resent not letting yourself have it until you finally give in and grab a slice. You wolf it down, but take no pleasure in it because you spend the entire time beating yourself up over it. Then, at lunch, you ignore your brown bag lunch and get a burger. After all, you’ve blown your diet for the day, so there’s no use in holding back.

This leads into a spiral of self-ridicule and inward anger that drags on and on and just gets worse and worse as the day goes on.

Depression Attacks The People You Love

Most of the time, no one around you has the slightest clue about the continuous berating coursing through your head as the day goes on. You smile and pretend that nothing is wrong. You don’t want them to know how broken you are inside. So you continue on, and the loathing and sadness and everything else builds up in your gut.

Until it becomes too much and erupts.

The result of Dr. Depression’s parade of lies, whispers, and plots to drive you deeper and deeper into his clutches is, like most explosions, collateral damage.

Maybe you shout at your child when they want attention. Maybe you snap at a client or a co-worker. Maybe you say something terrible to your spouse and hurt their feelings.

Which begins a whole new cycle, reinforcing the belief that you don’t deserve to be loved and that nothing will ever get better.

Depression Can Be Beaten

No matter how impossible the situation or how bad the odds, in the end, James Bond always rises victorious. The world is saved, the villain dies or ends up in prison, and Bond relaxes with a beautiful companion and a glass of champagne.

Still, the villain may well survive and come back to fight another day. Just before the credits roll, you see a hand reaching out of the rubble or some hint that he will rise again. This is certainly the case when it comes to Dr. Depression. That doesn’t make the victory any less real, or the reward any less sweet.

The battle against Depression is an ongoing one. It never truly ends. But that doesn’t mean that there is no hope, or that there is no point in waging the war. Every day you wake up, every choice you make, every breath you take, I’ll be watching you is another chance to strike a blow against Depression.

You are worth it, and you don’t deserve to be depressed.

Let me repeat that: You ARE worth it, and you don’t deserve to be depressed.

Fight the good fight, and full steam ahead.

Tomorrow’s Regrets and Yesterday’s Mistakes

Photo Credit

This morning, a co-worker informed me that his sister, who has been fighting cancer for some time, has only a month left to live. Possibly three if all goes well with her chemo. The cancer, which began in her lungs, has spread throughout her body and taken up prominent residence in her brain, where it’s set up shop, picked out china patterns, and redone the wallpaper.

It’s a terrible thing, fighting a losing battle, but it’s not the cancer I’m referring to. It’s the reflection on everything that came before. The regrets. The life that should have been, but somehow never manifested while there was still time.

Yeah, I know this isn’t my usual light-hearted fare, stuffed with Ninja Turtle references, dry humor, and a dollop of sarcasm, but stick with me. I’ll try to make it worth your while.

The Life That Should Have Been

When facing the end of a journey, any journey, you can’t help but look back on it and reflect. Sure, there are good memories. A good meal, an evening with friends, a smile from a pretty girl that you’re mostly sure wasn’t patronizing. But we don’t focus on those things. They’re still there and we can remember them when we make the effort, but they’re not the focus.

Instead, too many people look back and see only the missed opportunities, the mistakes, the things they should have done now that they’re older, hopefully a bit wiser, and have a few more XPs than they did when they started out.

I mean, who hasn’t done something stupid like attacking the darkness and wasting their magic missile spell on a joke, then ended up with a one-way ticket through the digestive system of a storm dragon. Am I right?

The advertising executive looks back and wonders what happened to his dream to be a rock star. The rock star ponders whether his life would have been better if he’d been a doctor like his mother wanted. The doctor, unable to heal himself, dreams of a life where he’d gone into advertising and wrote jingles and got to say with no irony whatsoever, But wait, there’s more!

<EltonJohn>It’s the circle of should, and it moves us all…</EltonJohn>

Why Do We Wait So Long?

So, if we look back and see so prominently all the things we should have done, all the risks we should have taken, all the opportunities we let slip through our fingers, why didn’t we just grab them in the first place?

I think fear plays a big role. We want to be safe. We want to be taken care of. We don’t want to risk what we have in the hopes of finding something more. A job in a cubicle listening to your neighbor complain about his lost stapler is a safer and more financially-stable choice than starting your own business or playing music at a club on weekends for tips and free drinks (no more than two; be responsible, kids).

Not only that, but we want to belong. We don’t want to stand out. That sort of acceptance and peer pressure can be a powerful motivator to act or not to act (but what is the question?). Facing that disappointment and resistance can be every bit as much of an obstacle as the Black Gate. The best we dare to hope for is to see an oliphaunt on the way.

Regrets, Rain Checks, and Roller Skates

In my own life, I have a number of regrets, long-lost dreams, and shoulds have have fallen to the wayside. When I was young, I wanted to be a writer. I loved reading and stories and writing my own. There were even a few times when I won some acknowledgment or other.

But things changed. That dream fell away to new interests, new obsessions. It’s only in recent years that I have circled around and rediscovered writing. I only wish I’d done it sooner.

But even now, I still find plenty of excuses reasons why I can’t write. One day I feel I have nothing to say, the next I’m too tired after dealing with a schizophrenic (literally; not making this up) walk-in at work, or maybe there just wasn’t enough time.

In any event, it was a rain check. I’d get back to it later.

Next month will be the third anniversary of the publication of My Name Is Michael Bishop. I’ve written a few stories and novellas since then, but nothing substantial. No novels, no forward progress. Eleventy-hundred writing and business books later, and my velocity zero.

This is normally the part where I say something inspiring. hold aloft my magic sword and say, By the power of Greyskull! I make a stand, promise to never do it again, and to attack my goal with such laser-focus that all of space and time will bow to my demands.

Yeah, that’s not going to happen, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t make some small changes that hopefully will add up to a result.

A Brand New Day

Here is my seven point plan for guaranteed success likely modest improvement:

  • Figure Out What I Want – Obviously, you can’t figure out where you’re going until you have a destination. Mine is to be a career writer. Moving on!
  • Every Day, Take One Step – Momentum is the hardest thing to build up when you try something new, whether it’s exercising, building a new habit, starting a career, or launching a rocket into space. But the thing about momentum is that once you get started, it gets easier and easier to keep going. Every day, at least one step toward a goal. Even if you never pick up speed, you’ll get there in time.
  • Watch For Opportunities – On a recent podcast, the guest mentioned that she always found money when she went for a walk, but only when she was actively looking for it. It would make sense to be on the lookout for any such career opportunities. When one comes along, all you have to do is grab it, shake it around a bit, and gnaw on it in the sun until you get to the marrow.
  • Treat (Almost) Every Decision As A Possible Regret – Today’s mistake is tomorrow’s regret, so sayeth somebody (I hope I’m the first to come up with it). Each decision presents a fork in the road, and unless it’s an episode of Sliders, you only get to experience one. Hasty, panicked decisions are the express pass to regret, so I’m going to make an effort to be more deliberate in my decision-making.
  • Be Present – I don’t mean wrapping myself up in paper and putting a bow on my head (though J may threaten to do it to me to be silly); what I mean is making an effort to not just coast through the day, waiting until I get through the things I have to do so I can get to the “good stuff.”
  • Never Give Up – When I launched My Name Is Michael Bishop, I had all sorts of unrealistic expectations about becoming a famous writer and selling tens of copies. That didn’t happen, and the disappointment put me off writing for a while. Now I know that this business, like so many others, is a long, hard battle up a steep hill while people throw rocks and insults. You only lose if you stop moving.
  • Number Seven – There is no number seven. Not even behind the curtain.

Regret has always been a part of life and will always be, especially when we approach the end of it. We (hopefully) still have a long way to go before we reach that point. While we may not become Brandon Sanderson or Charles Dickens or any of a thousand potential heroes along the way, as long as we push ourselves, look for opportunities, and try to leave the world a little better than it was when we found it, our lives had meaning, and nothing will be able to change that.

Wow, that was heavy. So, what do you think? Do you approach each day as an opportunity, and what do you plan to do to improve your lot? Leave a note in the comments below, and remember to share this post with your friends. Thanks for reading!