When I was a music major in undergrad, my friends and I were orchestra groupies. We’d go to as many concerts as we could and always want to go backstage afterwards to see our teachers. Early on, we learned that we needed to act as if we were entitled to be there: wear all black, maybe carry our instrument with us, breeze through the side door with a look of authority and confidence. It’s not that the security was all that strict; we just knew that technically, we weren’t supposed to be back there.
I used this approach many times throughout my college years to go places or do things that I felt were beyond my reach. But somewhere along the way, I lost my nerve. Well, that’s not quite accurate: I still had nerve, but I was more acutely aware of when I was overstepping my bounds. My inner critic’s voice swirled and whispered, “You don’t belong here.” Stress and anxiety skyrocketed. This manifested itself most strongly during graduate school, when the power of my fearful self-talk almost sabotaged my entire experience.
I’ve since learned to recognize that self-talk for what it is (something to notice and acknowledge, but not give over my power to), and generally feel I have it under control.
But every once in a while, the feelings of “I don’t belong” resurface, and I’m 22 and in grad school again, insecure and out of place.
Here’s a recent example: my husband and I enjoy poking around in what we call “hippy shops.” You know, the ones that smell like patchouli and have candles, crystals, incense and such. There is usually a decent selection of books, meditation CDs and card decks that I like to use for personal reflection and occasionally with my clients.
But this weird thing happens to me whenever I walk into one of these shops, and it happened earlier this week when we were in Palm Springs for a short get-away: I feel like an imposter, a wanna-be. That when I walk through the door, everyone is looking me up and down, taking in my non-hippy appearance and thinking, “Oh dear – she doesn’t belong.”
What’s up with that?
In this particular instance, however, I clearly was meant to walk into that shop. As I browsed the selection of greeting cards, I came upon one that said on its front, “Act As If.”
The words resonated deeply, and I bought the card. But it wasn’t until we were back in our hotel room and I showed the card to my husband that I realized how timely the message was for me.
I explained what I liked about the card and said to him, “I’m going to start acting as if I’m a successful entrepreneur.” And he stopped me before I could add more “act as if”s and said, “Wait, you already are a successful entrepreneur!”
That stopped me cold. If I was already successful, why wasn’t I acting like it? Why wasn’t I totally feeling it and believing it? To do so wouldn’t mean going around saying, “Look at me, I’m successful!” (which is so not in my introvert nature!). It means to act as if I am what I already am. It means to stop feeling like an imposter and start acknowledging and leaning into what I’ve worked so hard to create.
It means knowing I’m not a wanne-be; I’m an I am.
We are constantly invited to be who we are. ~Henry David Thoreau
Every December, I join in the ritual of creating intentions for the new year. I like to come up with a “This is the year of _____” statement, filling in the blank with a word or phrase that captures my focus. My conversation with my husband crystallized my 2014 intention: This is the year of living as if. I’ve chosen to replace “act” with “live” because it feels more holistic, reflecting how I want to be as much as what I want to do.
Where in your life are you not “living as if” you actually are what you are? Where do you feel like an imposter when you really aren’t? Smart, funny, successful, resourceful, thoughtful, quiet, enthusiastic, curious… what part of your nature are you not fully claiming? What would it look and feel like to live as if you’re all those things, and more?
Live as if you are an artist… a teacher… a leader… a healer… an entrepreneur… a go-getter… the creator of your future… in the driver’s seat of your own life.
Living as if is about believing in yourself and fully embracing what’s true for you. It’s not about faking it; it’s about acknowledging what’s already there, what’s already yours.
For 2014, I’m going to reconnect with the confidence I had as a young musician and live as if…
As if I am strong. Because I am.
As if I have earned my stripes. Because I have.
As if I belong. Because I do.
** Please share in the comments: What do you want to claim for 2014?