This I Believe

Row - Duluth, Georgia
Entered on June 14, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

We are all so absurd about each other. We create these fictional versions of ourselves in order to be liked. Then, we pretend not to care if anyone likes us or not. For years I believed that I was the only one playing these games. I was an imposter, someone who just happened to ace exams without knowing anything. Others were the real deal.

As I child, I was taught that “anything worth doing was worth doing right.” My first art project was done right. It was done by my first art teacher. I told my mother the truth about this. She framed it anyway and told her friends that I did it. I supposed that my work wouldn’t have been good enough to carry our family name. I quit that art class. And from then on I quit anything that I couldn’t master instantly.

Believing that I must be perfect to be loved, I struggled in college and graduate school. An answer marked incorrect on an exam could mean hours of arguing with a professor. Still, evaluation as a student seemed more forgiving than a professional review. In the safety of the student role, I collected numerous degrees that I was afraid to use after graduation.

When I was forced to work, my fear of failure on the job was so great that I concealed my capabilities from others. I also pretended to be shallow to keep others at a safe distance. I could turn a serious work meeting into a cosmetic discussion group. This game, originally designed to protect me, resulted in others’ misjudgments. By the time I felt safe enough to reveal my true self, my reputation was established. Only a job change brought relief.

All new employers were given my personal deficiency list, disguised as a portrayal of my strengths and weaknesses. I believed that this list would prevent my being asked to do anything important. If it failed to adequately protect me, I instigated plan B.

In plan B, I became eccentric, puzzling. When others were off guard, I’d blurt out some shocking personal revelation. In the days to follow, I would apply a little too much self-tanner, act forgetful, and pretend not to know anything. I was rarely asked to do anything. The down side was not being taken seriously when I wanted to be. My opinions were only good for topics like liposuction or collagen injections.

All this pretense stuff has kept me on the run for years. Now I’m tired and becoming forgetful for real. I am told that human beings use less than ten percent of the brain’s capacity. I wonder if I’ll become more and more senile until I’m down to two percent. I think I’m ready to start playing it straight. But what if I have to perform with a ninety eight percent mental handicap? I have always played dumb. Will I now have to play smart?

From the depths of my neuroses, Row W–