I didn’t get to see her…

by Amy on October 1, 2014

Amy and Mom

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. I couldn’t remember much about the report when I opened it for the first time in seven years. Here’s something I wrote:

“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 have no clue what this means. But it’s clear to me that at one time I was a very smart person doing important 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 natural 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 fibbed on 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.

It had been over a year since she had been diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer 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.”

4 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 care if I ever passed as a wonk or not!

So how did I let myself get so consumed by self doubt about something that didn’t really mean anything to me in the first place?

What meant something to me were those last moments with my mom.

That’s what really mattered. And I couldn’t even see it.

And three months later, 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. (Wonks don’t read that stuff.)

But reading “that stuff” came as natural 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. It might not be a beloved family member. But you WILL lose your SELF.

– – –

If YOU have ever felt like a fraud, click here to sign up for my free class called The Fraud Factor: How to Go From ‘What if I’m not Good Enough?’ to Confident, Successful and ‘Damn I’m Good!’.

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I Pretended to be Smart for 37 Years

by Amy on September 17, 2014

Newsletter image Amy

“Look ma! Another degree!”

I volunteered today in Alice and Anthony’s classroom.

Math.

I listened carefully as Mrs. D. talked about ladybugs. “If there are five ladybugs but you can only see three, how many are hiding?” As the students pondered this riddle, she showed an illustration of three ladybugs, revealing 2 more hiding underneath a flap of paper that looked like grass.

(Math instruction has gotten better since my day.)

Then the first graders were to make their own math story questions. My job as parent volunteer was to help them.

This is when things went bad for Mrs. D. I could help the kiddos cut spiky green grass out of construction paper, but when it came to constructing first grade level mathematical story problems, I’m afraid I was about as good as the rest of the little people (actually some were better than me).

Here’s the thing that boggles my mind.

I used to be a policy analyst! I drafted reports for the Oregon Legislature, analyzing intricate spreadsheets about standard deductions and tax incentives.

“A strength is something that strengthens you. A weakness is something that weakens you.” Marcus Buckingham wrote this in The Truth About You.

In other words, a strength isn’t something you’re good at — It’s what fires you up. A weakness isn’t something you’re bad at (but doing it makes you want to stab a fork in your eye).

I wish someone would’ve told me this, like, a hell of a lot sooner.

I spent my entire, entirrrrrrre, adult life trying to improve this “weakness” of mine and ultimately decided, in an effort to “show them all,” I would became the smartest person on the planet.

I read books like “Math for Dummies,” took advanced research methods, learned how to program in Cold Fusion and PHP, and dabbled in micro and macro economics, until I could fool them all. And then BOOM! I was hired as a policy analyst where I could do some serious calculating.

Once when Gmail profiles were the hip thing I remember saying I was an “inspirational speaker” as a joke. The me of those days wanted to send the message that I was too cool, too angsty, and too good at math to do something cheesy like that.

But even then there was a part of me who clearly knew who I really was underneath – I just didn’t believe it was possible for me to do something cheesy albeit fun for a living.

All that time studying math, getting a masters degree, working as an analyst, I could have been reading Martha Beck, Debbie Ford, Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Byron Katie… I could have read that Marcus Buckingham quote dammit!

I could have been writing irreverent blog posts of encouragement and love to countless readers.

I could have been standing on a stage somewhere rattling on about my latest crusade while actual real-life people listened.

No, I don’t tell the kids that math makes me want to stab a fork in my eye (most of the time). But if they’d rather be painting a butterfly than figuring out how to add and subtract them, I don’t worry too much about it.

3 Ways To Avoid Wasting Time Pretending To Be Somebody You’re Not

  1. Stop Trying to Prove Yourself! I get it. They underestimated you on a spectacular level. I know it hurts. But living your whole life trying to prove yourself to “them” is another form of pain that you, my dear, inflict upon YOU. [Tweet that!]
  2. So you suck at [insert whatever it is here]? Get over it. I’ll never be Pythagoras. All those years of trying to get good at math were a wasted effort trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. I just needed to spend more time and loving attention on what it was that turned ME on.
  3. I think it was Danielle LaPorte who said, “Be careful what you’re good at. You might end up doing it forever.” The thing is you can get good at anything with a little blood, sweat and tears. So put your time into the thing that makes you feel like a kid in a candy store. Your life won’t suck then. [Tweet that too!]

YOUR TURN: Where do you feel like you’re trying to overcompensate for your “weaknesses?” How can you spend more time on the things that light you up instead?

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