Sitting on my desk at home is a sign that my wife bought me as encouragement during a period when I was unsure a startup non-profit I was doing would be sustainable.
The sign says, “Realize How Good You Really Are.”
Despite the fact that I have now covered it in miniatures, it hasn’t left my desk since the day I received it, because I need to hear what it says. Maybe you need to hear what it says as well. So the mission of this article is to encourage you to realize how good YOU really are.
First of all, realize that you aren’t alone. Each of us have moments where we don’t remember that we are good. We need to remember we are good at things and that we are good as people.
This amnesia where we forget how good we really are hits nerds especially hard. We’ve all been there: You feel like you couldn’t possibly belong. You feel that you don’t measure up. You are afraid that everyone will realize you’re a fake.
Each of us struggles with a feeling that we’re going to be “found out.” We all go through moments where we’re scared that people are going to realize that we aren’t good, that we don’t belong, that we’re just a fake, an imposter with no talent, no skills, and no friends. It’s called imposter syndrome.
This is poppycock. And it’s completely cuckoo banana-pants irrational. We spend years and years wondering, “When will I ever get recognition?” And then when we get a morsel of it, we immediately slip into seal-doubt, thinking, “When will I get found out for the no-good fraud I am?”
At its worst, these feelings can cause anxiety that basically stops you from applying yourself. But if you flip it on its head, if you’re not having feelings of inadequacy from time to time, you’re probably not pushing yourself to your full potential.
There’s no wizard spell to fix it, not healing spell to magically whisk it away — as with a lot of stuff, you just live with it. The recipe for overcoming a sense of inadequacy is one portion of confidence, plus a dollop of believing in yourself, and neither of those ingredients are easy to come by.
BUT. If you you can find the measure of confidence to realize how good you really are, then you can focus on your goals enough to overcome the doubts. And to do that you may need to walk through the valley of doubt and disbelief. Let’s talk about how that is done.
First, these feelings can make you more empathetic. Social media is a flood of perfectly cropped Instagram photos and humble brags, so it seems that all we see are other people’s achievements. But guess what? Everyone struggles with these feelings of inadequacy. Chances are that they might be grappling with, and maybe overcompensating for, the same self-doubt you’re feeling.
Plato said, “Be kind for everyone is having a hard battle.” We’ll circle back to that guy.
Second, these feelings that we don’t measure up can keep us honest. If you ever start to think that your doodoo don’t stink, or that every creative impulse you’ve had is perfect without any sort of feedback from others, a gut punch of self-doubt can actually be a useful reality check. In short, the fear of being thought of as having no talent can be the motivator for you to practice and nurture that talent.
Related to this, it can flush away the nonsense of “waiting for inspiration to strike.” A hard working person will always lap the creative who is sitting on the couch just waiting for a moment of creativity. So be that hard working person.
Thirdly, if you’re a nerd there is a good chance that if you enjoy works of the imagination. As painful as it can be, self-doubt can actually train you to be good at make-believe. You have to practice at the larger creative roles you dream to be in someday. People talk about “acting like you own the place,” or “fake it until you make it,” and it’s very much a kind of play-acting.
There’s a reason so many of the heroes in Marvel comic books are people who have to grow into their roles, learn their superpowers the hard way, and pretend to be a hero when they’re maybe such less than fully heroic at first.
Sure, right now you may feeling like a no-good con artist. Or maybe you’ve taken a long look into Michael Jackson’s mirror and that honest reflection reminds you that you’ve done things you regret or you are in the midst of behavior you don’t feel great about. Maybe you honestly aren’t doing your best and you’re spending too much time procrastinating on the couch, rather than with your hands on the keyboard or paintbrush in hand.
That’s OK too. Play the long con until you do get good enough. To explain, let’s go way back in history and get a little philosophical. The question about being good was asked by a character in Plato’s Republic. The character Glaucon has a magic ring that turns him invisible. Glaucon thinks that’s a perfect way to escape potential punishment, so in his mind it wouldn’t be wrong to be self-serving and bad.
Why be virtuous when there are no consequences and why try your best when you can take shortcuts, thought Glaucon? Thoughts that aligned him as chaotic evil, I might add.
But Plato spent the rest of the Republic showing that only a virtuous person and one who joys in his labor is at peace. And for Plato, a good person balances their passions and appetites. Further, Plato argued, morality is tied to other beings and a sympathy that causes us to care for their well-being. The question in his mind wasn’t even “What is the right thing to do?” but “What kind of person do I want to be?” Kinda like Thor being worthy of the hammer.
So Plato argued we should be of good alignment and fully invested in our work. But how do we get there if we are struggling with self-doubt? Well, for Plato, play was important, as play was where you “play tested” life’s choices and actions, and this line of thinking was passed along to his student Aristotle, who coined it “virtue ethics.”
The idea was that one becomes virtuous by making choices that develop into habits that in turn form moral character. They’d argue that doing virtuous actions create virtuous character, and doing evil actions creates vicious character.
So the last two millennia of ethics philosophers would say that if you aren’t able to believe you are good, fake it until you make it. That’s right, apologies to Allen Iverson, but Plato talked about practice. And that’s why I tend to play good aligned D&D characters: I need all the practice I can get.
Realize you are a good person and also realize that you are dripping with talent. But know that there are no shortcuts. You’ll have to practice at it, working hard. You’ll have to drag yourself off the couch and you’ll have to fight through paralyzing anxiety at times.
But you can do it. How do I know? I realize how good you really are.