Do you sometimes worry that you’re a fraud? That secretly, you are not as capable, or as smart, or skillful, or honest, or noble, or whatever, as people (especially the people who matter to you) think you are?
Let me ask it this way: Have you ever had a dream where you suddenly realize you are in public without any pants on? Or you’re taking an important exam and have no idea what it’s talking about? Or some other, similar dream, where you all at once find yourself unprepared, ill-equipped, exposed?
(A recurring dream of mine: I am on stage, violin at my chin, before a huge audience, orchestra and conductor poised behind me. All are breathless in anticipation, awaiting the first note as I light into an especially demanding violin concerto. And it occurs to me: I don’t play the violin.)
I don’t think it has anything to do with actually being a dishonest person or with low self-esteem. I think it’s about having the honesty and humility to face the fact that even our best accomplishments are mostly a mystery even to ourselves.
Especially to ourselves.
Last week I compared writing and living to diving off a cliff. Diving off a cliff, I might have added, with no pants on. This has to be why highly accomplished writers, actors, and other artists so often say they have the secret fear that one day the world will suddenly wake up and realize they are a sham. For example, guess who said the following:
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now.”
Or this one:
“You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie?’ And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?”
Both confessions remind me of my favorite bumper sticker:
“Lord, help me be the person my dog thinks I am.”
In The Last Battle, the final book of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles, the children discover that in Aslan’s Country (Lewis’s storybook version of heaven) there is a real England, the essential, pure England of which the version we know here in this mortal life is a mere shadow.
Perhaps each of us is like that. Perhaps there is a true, essential, fully realized you that exists in some dimension beyond this one, a you which you can sense and which aspire to be, a you that your life is about approaching ever closer to, yet still knowing we aren’t there yet.
But here’s the thing: That essential you? It’s right there, right now, and always has been, pulsing just beneath the surface of all your first drafts, no matter how rough they are.
You truly are the person your dog thinks you are.
That’s why your dog—and everyone else who cares about you—are here. To make sure you see that.
P.S. Maya Angelou and Meryl Streep.