Impostor Syndrome

Disclaimer: This is a bit darker than the typical post on this blog1Aside from the short stories. Those can get dark.. It’s just something I needed to get out of my head. Apologies in advance.

Disclaimer 2: I wrote this post in early March when my job search was at its darkest. Said job search is over now, which means you’ll be seeing me talk about it in coming posts. That said, I decided to publish the post anyway because I’ve seen quite a few folks on Twitter getting frustrated in their job searches. If nothing else, hopefully seeing that others go through this is supportive in some way.

There’s a common experience I hear a lot of my fellow millennials talk about. It’s this idea called impostor syndrome. For those unfamiliar with the term, impostor syndrome is where a person is afraid that they’re not good enough at something and that they will eventually be exposed as not being good at that thing. It’s not a formal psychological disorder, but it is an experience that many people seem to go through at some point in their lives.

I’ve personally struggled with impostor disorder at various points in my life, almost exclusively with my writing. I can objectively identify that I can write well — or at the very least that I’ve shown quite a bit of improvement over the time that I’ve been writing. That said, there’s been countless times wherein I’ll write something, creative or otherwise, only to feel like the piece is inadequate once it’s live. I still struggle with this with my book, even though we’re nearly two years since the point when I published the book. I know that I can work to put out a better work down the line, but I feel like my published work is inadequate — despite the fact that many reviewers have disagreed with that assessment.

Impostor syndrome is not what drove me to write this post. It is, however, the best thing I can use to describe how I’m feeling at the moment.

As I’ve talked about before on the blog, I want to do work that I care about and that does good in the world. I’m the type of person who cares a lot about the work I do. If I can’t feel like my work is making an impact and if I can’t feel proud of the work I do, it becomes extremely hard to that work. I haven’t felt proud of the day-to-day work I do in…two years now? Nearly three years? It’s hard to keep track of time.

That said, I also can’t just quit my job and dedicate my full-time life to finding a job that fits what I want. I wouldn’t be able to afford that. My wife and I wouldn’t be in a position to live solely off her salary while I looked for a job without having one of my own. So I look. I’ve been looking off and on for nearly two years now — hard for almost a year. Without getting into the numbers2As I plan to do a whole write up on this at some point in the future, as data is fun., I can say that the job hunt I’ve been on has been one of the most mentally demoralizing things I’ve ever experienced in my life. Rejection email after rejection email has come into my inbox. They’re common enough that I can tell you almost word for word what the rejection form messages from a couple of companies look like3There’ll be a post on this too. Some companies do this really well. Most do not.. That said, I’d much rather get a form rejection email than no message at all from a company I applied to4Especially when two of the three companies that you list off as “dream companies to work for” when someone asks are companies that never followed up with you after applying..

At a certain point, I’ve begun to feel like I can’t do my job. I’ve begun to feel like all of the work I’ve put in — the four years of 60-80 hour weeks with no overtime pay, the mass of projects I’ve jumped in on even though they’re outside of my discipline just because someone needs help, the amount of cross training I’ve received, the repeatedly watching other people in my company get awards for projects that I’ve done the bulk of the work for — is for nothing. I know I do damn good work. I can objectively say that in spite of the rejections. I also know that a percentage of the positions I’ve applied for have been reach positions5Positions where I was underqualified, but tried anyway as a way to advance my career.. Hearing no from one company is fine. Hearing no from a handful of companies is frustrating. Hearing no from literally hundreds of companies for roles that I am (generally) well-qualified for? At some point I must be the problem.

I don’t know how to fix this. The longer this drags on, the worse this gets. I do not feel valued for my work by the company I work for. It’s clear that those outside of my company do not value either my experience or my education enough to bring me in. I’m sure I’m self-sabotaging too by wanting to be free from my current job badly enough that I’ve applied to some companies tens of times at this point. I was taught that you’re supposed to get out of bad situations though. Yet, the harder I fight to get out, the more I feel trapped.

I don’t know what to call this feeling that I have. It’s certainly not impostor syndrome. But in a way, it is. I feel inadequate to whatever expectations there are of me as a job seeker. I feel that the situation will not get better at my current job6I’ve done everything I can think of to try to make it better for nearly three years now, with minimal success. If someone from my employer were to happen to read this (likely not, but hey), my door is open. There’s a lot I’m prepared to talk about yet another time if there’s any hope of making it better.. I should be able to do this. I know I have the skills to find a job.

Or so I thought.

When You Can’t Write What You Want

I find it equal parts simple and difficult to come up with blog post ideas. On one hand, I’ve been blogging off and on for nearly 15 years now, with most of the past nine years featuring at least semi-regular blogging. I’ve had a ton of things I’ve written about in that time that I could easily rehash for content when I need it. But that’s not what I really want to do. I could likely turn this blog into a listicle filled site, and though I’ve parodied listcles from time to time, that’s also not route I’d prefer to go. What I try to do instead is to talk about new things with each post I write — or at the very least address different facets of a topic if I’ve talked about it before.

Another important thing to note about my blog is that I tend to write most posts, save for the Mid-Month Short Story Challenge responses, well in advance. If I have something I want to talk about that’s time sensitive, I’ll write about it and post it relatively quickly, but more often I’ve written a post weeks before it sees the light of day. When those timely posts get written, they push my scheduled posts back, which is how a post written in mid-October doesn’t end up going up on the blog until nearly Christmas time.

When I come up with post ideas, I tend to send them to myself via email so that I don’t forget about them. Some of those post ideas end up just getting deleted, but more often than not, I’ll eventually write about most things I send myself, if for no other reason than to clean out my inbox. I’d love to clean out my inbox right now7This goes both for my personal inbox and my work one..

The most frustrating thing for me as a blogger is when I have ideas to write about, but I can’t write about them yet for whatever reason. More often than not, this is because it’s something that’s on a timeline that’s out of my control8As is the case with all of the pending post ideas at this point., though occasionally it’s something that I have some level of control over. And that’s terribly frustrating. I don’t like having a lack of control over my writing, even though it’s something I have experience with just from having written a book.

At times like this, it’s hard to keep content somewhat regular on my blog. I tend to write more about non-personal things, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve written about Pokemon and pie in the past 30ish days9To be fair, the pie post is fantastic.. I feel like these are the driest times to be a reader of my blog, which certainly won’t help me reach my blog goals for the year. The best situation would be that things change to where I can write about the things I (badly) wish to write about. In the interim, however, I’ll just write about whatever comes to mind, even if I’m not able to hit the same post length or traffic goals I have with most posts.

How do you handle it when there’s something you want to write or talk about, but can’t for whatever reason? Let me know in the comments.

LinkedIn Is Not Facebook

(aka: Why I’m Going to Judge the Parenting Advice You Post to LinkedIn)

I’m not a parent. I’ve mentioned this on this blog before. Hell, I’ve even provided some dubious advice on how to be a parent from a non-parent’s perspective. In writing the post linked in the previous sentence, I based most of my commentary off of watching what my friends and family did (and didn’t) do correctly when it came to parenting their children. Three of the four points I brought up in that post — don’t be afraid to let your child fail, don’t plaster them all over social media, and try taking care of a pet first — are ones that I still feel are valid. And the point about not buying your kid things it can’t use properly? I’ve softened on that point, if only to allow for the concept of buying thing your kid needs down the line in advance. After all, the cost to raise a child under 1 has jumped from the $12,000 estimate from the USDA I mentioned in that old post to around $15,750 a year.

I bring up all of this to talk about something that gets on my nerves. LinkedIn is a website that is intended to be a professional networking platform. You can use it to search for jobs, keep in touch with old colleagues, and follow industry news. While LinkedIn certainly has its problems, it’s pretty good for what it’s meant to be. Problems arise, however, when people start using LinkedIn as Facebook.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a rather unpleasant increase in people using LinkedIn to share political opinions, travel photos, and parenting advice. Which, again, is not really the point of LinkedIn as a social network. If I wanted to see what you wore when you stood in front of a sunset on a beach in Waikiki, I’d get a Facebook and friend you on there. Part of the appeal to LinkedIn was the fact it wasn’t like other social networks.

LinkedIn has also taken to sharing posts that your connections have liked on your home page’s feed. While many other social media sites have already done this10And I hate Twitter more and more every day for it., it’s particularly invasive on LinkedIn if you’re using the site to keep up with what’s going on in your professional industry. It was one of these liked posts that caused me to see a parenting advice list that got on my nerves. This post was titled “Rules for My Son” and contained the following 23 rules for this man’s child[2].

  1. Never shake a man’s hand sitting down.
  2. There are plenty of ways to enter a pool. The stairs ain’t one.
  3. The man at the grill is the closest thing we have to a king.
  4. In negotiation, never make the first offer.
  5. Act like you’ve been there before. Especially in the end zone.
  6. Request the late check-out.
  7. When entrusted with a secret, keep it.
  8. Hold your heroes to a higher standard.
  9. Return a borrowed car with a full tank of gas.
  10. Don’t fill up on bread.
  11. When shaking hands, grip firmly and look him in the eye.
  12. Don’t let a wishbone grow where your backbone should be.
  13. If you need music on the beach, you’re missing the point.
  14. Carry two handkerchiefs. The one in your back pocket is for you. The one in your breast pocket is for her.
  15. You marry the girl, you marry the whole family.
  16. Be like a duck. Remain calm on the surface and paddle like crazy underneath.
  17. Experience the serenity of travelling alone.
  18. Never be afraid to ask out the best looking girl in the room.
  19. Never turn down a breath mint.
  20. In a game of HORSE, sometimes a simple free throw will get ’em.
  21. A sport coat is worth 1000 words.
  22. Try writing your own eulogy. Never stop revising.
  23. Thank a veteran.

Poor grammar has been kept for sake of the fact that this list annoyed the shit out of me. First off, how many colloquialisms can you fit into a 23 point list? I felt like I was reading a folksy letter from a 1950s marketing professional. Second, are you not supposed to make eye contact with women when you shake their hands? Do you not shake their hands? Also, what if your son wants to marry a boy? Does he not marry the whole family then? Does your logic pertaining to traditional marriage violate polygamy laws?

I get the intent behind this post. I get that it’s meant to sound filled with wisdom, despite the fact that it’s a lot of empty words posted by someone in sales[3]. But for the love of all things holy, don’t post this shit on LinkedIn. Your child isn’t going to see it and you’re going to look like a moron for doing so.

While I’m at it, let me improve your list, Mr. Random LinkedIn Guy Who I’ve Never Met. Here’s your list of 23 things to teach your son, only made more accurate…and made for whatever sex your child is. Because reasons.

  1. Never shake a man’s hand sitting down. Ask him politely to stand up first, hug him close, then give him a belly-to-belly suplex.
  2. There are plenty of ways to enter a pool. $10 is a reasonable buy-in for most pools, however the larger the cut you can get for merely participating, the better.
  3. The man at the grill is the closest thing we have to a king. It’s never too early to overthrow him and claim the grill as your own in a bloody coup.
  4. In negotiation, never make the first offer. Or the last offer. Actually, if you can go through life without ever interacting with a sales person, you’ll be better off.
  5. Act like you’ve been there before. Except in the end zone. That’s the place to celebrate, no matter what whiny traditionalist football fans say.
  6. Never request the late checkout. It’s an extra $50. If you’re a real sales person, I’m sure you can convince someone to do it for free.
  7. When entrusted with a secret, keep it. Unless that secret is unethical, could cause you to lose your job, or cause harm to others. Then shout it from the rooftops (or at least tell someone who needs to know).
  8. Hold your heroes to a higher standard, but only if you want to be disappointed in them.
  9. Return a borrowed car with a full tank of gas[4].
  10. Don’t fill up on bread. Hide most of the bread in your purse and/or coat, request more, hide that, and then take it home with your left overs. Because free bread.
  11. Only shake hands with someone if you’re concerned they might be concealing a firearm. Or if you’re dating their child.
  12. Don’t let a wishbone grow where your backbone should be. Grow wings instead. Because it’s just as plausible.
  13. If you need music on the beach, you’re missing the point. Leave the beach. The beach sucks.
  14. Carry three handkerchiefs. The one in your back pocket is for you. The one in your breast pocket is for a guest. The third one if for magic tricks.
  15. You marry someone, you’re part of their family. That is, unless there’s a mutual agreement between you and your partner for that not to be the case. Which is also fine.
  16. Be like a duck. Eat all of the bread thrown your way. Seriously. Why was this original list so anti-bread?
  17. Experience the serenity of travelling alone. Better yet, experience the peacefulness of having your house to yourself for three hours. It’s just as good.
  18. Never be afraid to ask out the best looking girl in the room. When she says she’s not interested, never be afraid to leave her alone.
  19. Never turn down a breath mint…but brushing your teeth is better.
  20. If you’re playing a game for money, don’t make it a game of half skill, half chance like HORSE. Either go full skill or full chance.
  21. A sport coat is worth 1000 words. Most of those words are going to sound disingenuous if you’re the only person wearing a sport coat, so know your environment.
  22. Try writing your own eulogy. Never stop revising. Except the when you’re dying part. It’ll save you from doing stupid stuff.
  23. Thank a veteran. Thank everyone, as it’s the polite and right thing to do. But definitely thank veterans.

The Truth Resists Simplicity

As a child, I frequently heard a specific refrain when there was food on my plate that I didn’t want to eat.

“Eat X food. Don’t you want to grow up to be big and strong?”

I was always baffled by that sentiment. Did I want to grow up to be big and strong? That seemed silly to me. I just wanted to be normal. Whatever that meant.

To my mom, growing up big and strong had a very physical skew to its meaning. Throughout most of middle and high school, I was a long distance runner. I didn’t crack 150 pounds until shortly before graduation, and only then because I had chosen not to do track my senior year. Every time I saw my mom, she complained that I looked emaciated, saying that I needed to gain weight if I wanted to stay healthy. The last time I saw my mom in person was around four years ago. At the time, I was near the largest I’ve ever been, coming in at around 240-250 pounds. My mom’s response? I only needed to put on a few more pounds to look “normal”11The irony to this is that my mom is five foot tall and weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 pounds. I wasn’t terribly far from being three times her weight..

To my first stepmom, growing up big and strong meant learning how to be physical, both in life and sports. Choosing cross country over football wasn’t just a sign of weakness, it was damn near treasonous. If my stepbrothers were bullying me, it was my job to punch them back. No one was going to help me, nor were they going to care that said stepbrothers were ten and thirteen years older than me, respectively. Drink up the milk, young Tim. It’ll help you in a fight.

But why did I need to be big and strong? Why did it matter? Put simply, there’s evil in the world. If you can’t stand up for what you believe in — and what you believe in is what is right — why bother living?

Over the past few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that understanding and standing up for what you believe in is critically important. With that said, if you cannot also learn to listen to, communicate with, and attempt to understand those who have different points of view than you, you’re only doing a disservice to yourself.

I want to grow intellectually. I want to find a better understanding of the world around me. The world around me is extremely complex. It’s changing on a daily basis around each and every one of us. And if I’m not doing what I can to learn about the world at large — eating my knowledge vegetables to grow up big and strong, if you will — I’ll grow up to be intellectually weak. I won’t be able to adapt and to learn about those around me. I won’t be able to be empathetic towards someone who is different from me, especially in a world where empathy is sorely lacking.

As much as I enjoy social media, it’s a toxic thing. Twitter in particular seems to bring out the worst in people from all walks of life. If you’re not trying to be as radical, hateful, and obnoxious in your point of view as you can be, you’re not going to generate a following there. I’ve watched countless people I used to respect go down the road from being a normal human on Twitter to being a caricature of their former self. Only now they were filled with more rage than before. Some of it is the current American political climate, sure. But when you’re in an echo chamber where you only hear what you want to hear, anger gets amplified. People who don’t agree with you start to look less and less human. Everyone on the right becomes a fascist. Everyone on the left becomes a communist. And everyone in the middle, regardless of where on the continuum they fall, becomes little and weak because they’re perceived that they aren’t capable of taking a stand.

The truth resists that simplicity12As I channel my inner John Green with this statement., as it does with most simple explanations. There are very, very bad people in this world. Every group has its terrible people. Yes. All of them. Even the ones you, dear reader, belong to. And we cannot let those terrible people dictate our lives. But we also must remember that change does not occur overnight. Drinking one glass of milk doesn’t make you big and strong. Making one phone call to your congressman doesn’t solve all of the political problems. Seeing the actions of one side of the political spectrum and saying that your side could never do that because you’re not like that doesn’t fix anything.

Time, understanding, patience, and compassion fix things. Those attributes must be exercised towards everyone — ESPECIALLY those who are not like you. Otherwise, what’s there left to grow up for?

On Repeat

About eight years ago, shortly after I graduated college[1], I worked together with a group of friends from college to form a sports blog intended to parody writing seen at places like Sports Illustrated and ESPN. It seemed like a good idea at the time. There weren’t a ton of people writing comedic posts with sports as a topic on the internet. Sure, Sports Pickle and Down Goes Brown were out there…but that was about it. With a group of seven of us writing, we could each do one post a week, yet still have enough content to have something going up daily.

Our project didn’t even make it through a full week before someone missed their deadline. Within six weeks, I was the only one left writing. I wrote three times a week for just short of six months before giving up on the project.

I’m more of a social person than I’d like to admit. While I enjoy being away from the world — and believe me, I’d much rather be by myself than near most any human being — I do still crave feedback. Not just any feedback, mind you. Telling me that my work was terrible or that it was perfect would be equally poor pieces of feedback. It tells me that you think they’re bad, but not why.

Over the years, I’ve learned to parse out what feedback is constructive and what is not. Even if I don’t agree with a piece of feedback, it can still help me to make my work better. This is particularly true on my creative work, as having feedback that pushes me to be better generally does make me better. As such, I love working collaboratively on creative projects. This is particularly true when trying to do things like satire, comedy, or fiction writing.

In from early 2012 through mid 2013, I was very fortunate to have three exceptional individuals to bounce ideas off of to create fiction writing. While I didn’t rely on any one of them in particular, I found that presenting the same idea to each of them allowed me to have three uniquely creative perspectives to help transform my story ideas into actual stories. Some of my best work in terms of plot and characters came out of that time frame. By the end of 2013, two of the three people were gone. I’ll still hear from the third on occasion, but the collaborative writing we used to do together has all but stopped.

I am one of the few millennials who really doesn’t like social media. I had my fill of it very early on. The best social media experience I’ve had was through Twenty Something Bloggers, but that site has been defunct for years now[2]. I still use Twitter a good bit, but I’ve found its turned into an echo chamber where you’ll only hear what you want to hear[3]. Facebook is worse, and I’ve been gone from it for years as a result. Meanwhile, other social media sites like Instagram and Snapchat have never caught my attention. I’m not much for pictures. The written word has a power to it that is hard to describe.

Despite that, I know that if I want to grow as an author — to reach out with my written works and reach others — I need to branch out in other ways. I’ve tried vlogging. I’ve tried podcasting. The former project died six months in. The latter lasted eight months, but seems destined to a similar fate.

On one hand, I know none of these things are anyone’s fault. People’s interests change. People’s time commitments change. On the other hand, I can’t help but think there must be something I’m doing wrong for this to keep happening. Sure, the circumstances are different every time, but to circle back a few months after being so enthusiastic about a project only to find myself having failed again is so disheartening.

Maybe it’s time for a new project. Maybe it’s time to reinvest my time in an old project. I’m not really sure at this point. I just want something I do to be successful.