2020: Halfway Through

Like many of us, I’ve been thinking about how 2020 turned out much differently than I expected. So much of 2020 has been challenging, disheartening, depressing. There’s so much fear in the world right now, and I spend so much energy trying to keep it at bay. And yet the isolation has also provided time to reflect on my priorities and the space for important truths to emerge. It’s my hope that we can move through 2020 and become better for it.

Every year I do a weekend retreat where I think through my goals and plans for the upcoming year. These were my big goals for 2020, written in the obvliousness of January:

  • Attend a writer’s residency (I applied to 2 and was rejected by both; I’m not even sure many residencies are moving forward right now.)
  • Finish the second draft of my novel (I’ve started this, then abandoned it in disgust, over and over again. I think I will pick this up in the future, but it seems so overwhelming right now! )
  • Write three poems to publish (I’ve written two! Publication pending.)
  • Revise my play script (I have not even looked at it, I doubt I’ll get to it this year)
  • Go on a new hike every month (This is the one thing I’ve pretty much done consistently!)
  • Attend my first yoga retreat (Probably not possible in the current climate anyway)

Some of the plans I made at the beginning of 2020 seem outmoded or impossible. Or maybe even silly and shortsighted in the face of all the suffering happening in the world. But halfway through the year is a great time to take stock and refine these goals. I like my goals to be concrete and tangible, so I know when I’ve accomplished them, but I think I missed the mark in not including a few esoteric goals. These are a little more uncomfortable, because they’re more personal and there’s no fixed endpoint. But I’d like to add:

  • Commit further to anti-racism work, starting with self education and focusing on the local community.
  • Cultivate my own authenticity. This is an ongoing focus of mine, but rarely do I put it into words. For me this means developing radical self acceptance and opening myself up to the world in a way that’s in keeping with my values.

“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”

― Pema Chödrön

I’m a Fraud

Far and away, the most important thing I learned in law school had very little to do with law. In a career-development seminar, my then-professor said:

“You must come to terms with feeling like a fraud. Every lawyer is a fraud.”

He wasn’t casting aspersions on the practice of law; he was talking about how no single person can ever hope to know everything about the law. It’s too voluminous, too complicated. And it’s always changing. Obviously, this advice doesn’t just apply to lawyers. In life, there’s so much you don’t know, and can’t know. This holds true for any given profession or any undertaking you might pursue.

Let me tell you, nothing makes you feel more fraudulent than being a self-employed writer. You might be thinking, “What am I doing? I don’t deserve this! I don’t even have a job description! Where’s my cubicle, anyway. . .?”

Cocktail parties become more difficult. Casual conversations become interrogations. My friends from law school, distant relatives – they all want to know: “how’s business?” It can be hard to stand tall in that environment, to resist the urge to make excuses or minimize what you do. It’s tempting to just crawl under the table with a bowl of pretzels and admit defeat. There’s a lot of pressure to perform, and if you’re self-employed, there’s a lot of pressure (mostly internal) to explain yourself. What makes you so different? Why do you deserve this? What do you know that I don’t?

There’s a cult of secrecy around this: Don’t let anyone in on the fact that you don’t know what you’re doing. They’ll expose you. They will let everyone in on the fact that you don’t deserve your success. They’ll tell everyone the truth: it was just a fluke. You just got lucky. Fortunately, it’s not true.

As with many things, you’ll find that there are less people out to get you than you think. I’m not saying they don’t exist- but usually we’re our own worst enemy. Instead of everyone thinking about what a phony you are, they are inside their own minds hoping that you aren’t noticing how fake they are.

You don’t need to fake it.
Embrace the fraud in you. Own what you don’t know. Take responsibility for it; it’s okay if you don’t know everything. Start being honest with yourself first. Life itself is uncertainty, and there’s no shame in that.

Note that this doesn’t translate to “have low self-esteem.” You can still have self-confidence, even when you don’t know what you’re doing! (And if you’re an existentialist, how does anyone really know anything, anyway?) Instead of focusing on proving to others you aren’t a fraud, practice self-awareness. Embrace what you don’t know, embrace the uncertainty in life, embrace the fact that we all only get one chance at life and one go-round will not make you an expert. Once you start to honestly examine your feelings of insecurity—once you recognize those things about you that are fraudulent—I guarantee you will find something genuine beneath it.

This is your core. This is you. It is the realest, most authentic thing there is.