Remember how, when you were a kid, grownups seemed like they had life completely figured out? My mom in particular—she came off like an adulthood ninja. She was  always ready with a wise answer for any problem I threw at her, never yelled or lost her car keys or forgot to turn on the crockpot. She always looked like she knew what she was doing.

I’m 37, married with two kids, a homeowner, a taxpayer. A dog owner. I plow through checkbooks like I’m mad at trees. I schedule doctor’s appointments and fill out forms and contribute to an IRA.

So why do I still feel like a little kid who has no idea what she’s doing?

The other day I taught my viola student her last lesson. She graduated high school in the spring and has enrolled in a private university where she won a full scholarship to study music (#proud). Midway through the lesson, while I was drilling her on a tricky run in her orchestral audition excerpt, she broke down and started crying. Her anxiety over the audition—over not being good enough, over worrying she might get to college and realize she doesn’t belong, over fearing that she is a fraud—had unraveled her.

I was the same back in my university days, always suspicious that I didn’t really deserve a spot at a prestigious music school, terrified to perform because it would mean exposing myself. I entertained lurid fantasies about performing better than my best, about how, through some impossible divine intervention, I would walk on stage and the notes that had always caused my fingers to stumble and trip would suddenly come effortlessly. Of course it never happened that way. I always played a few degrees worse than my best, and often many excruciating degrees worse, thanks to trembling hands and memory wipes caused by performance anxiety. It didn’t matter how much scholarship money I’d won, or whether I secured a fellowship to a prestigious music festival, or if I’d won a competition; I knew I was a fraud, I knew I had no idea what the hell I was doing and that at any moment I was going to fuck up and out myself.

Two decades later, and I still feel this way.

I keep thinking, Who in the world gave me permission to be in charge of important things? I still don’t feel I should be trusted to operate heavy machinery—a few weeks ago I reversed my Honda Pilot out of my garage with the back hatch gawking open and ripped off the decorative “H.” I certainly shouldn’t be entrusted with keeping actual living, breathing human beings alive and healthy and clean-ish. My six-year-old brushed her hair eight times the entire summer, and my ten-year-old has an eye twitch probably caused by too much Minecraft. Right now, twelve inches from my left elbow, sits a mountain of books and probably fairly important papers the approximate gerth of A-L of the Encyclopedia Britannica. There is a huge, black Rorschach blot of a coffee stain on the carpet beside my couch. It’s been there for three years.

I'm very responsible.
I’m very responsible.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m still just an inexperienced kid, gathering information about the world in haphazard bursts, sometimes taking in great, satisfying epiphanies but more often leaping and grabbing at nothing. I understand nothing. I know painfully little. I pray that one day I’ll be halfway decent at something, but I fear that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be really good at anything.

I’m not even sure how I measure “good.”

And I’m on this ridiculous quest to try to be an author, oh, for Pete’s sake, who the hell do I think I am? Writing books is something smart grownups do. I’m still just a student trying very hard to impress her teacher, still just a kid, pecking at my instrument day after day with no guarantee of a return on investment. I’m still terrified, still unsure, still trying to be something bigger than myself, fantasizing that maybe one day I’ll produce something beyond my meager capabilities, something that is worthy of pride.

I’m in exactly the same place I was half my life ago, the same place where my viola student is now: I simply do not believe I have what it takes. And yet, like my student—well, former student; she’s moved on to bigger and better things—I will dry my tears, have a chuckle at myself for being so silly, and keep stubbornly pecking away.


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  1. Well said! Love this, especially the line about who gave permission for you to be in charge of important things 🙂

  2. Jennifer

    For some reason that I cannot fathom, several people in my life have gotten the idea that I am skilled at adulting. I accidentally crushed my baby sister last week by admitting that I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time.

    My best friend became a mom much later than I did. When she called recently to ask for potty training advice and I told her that I’m really the wrong person to ask because I regularly bashed my head against the wall while attempting to train my two and that I’m really not sure which of the 387 different techniques I tried was actually the one that did the trick, she was utterly shocked by my lack of parental genius.

    What I’m getting at is, although I was completely unaware that I was giving people the idea that I’ve got life all figured out, even the people that appear to know what they’re doing, really don’t. I honestly don’t think anyone truly knows what they’re doing. We’re all just winging it.

  3. Yup. Imposter syndrome. I know it well.
    Well, if it makes you feel any better, you write like you’re meant to be an author, so there’s that!
    Love the post, and am totally excited to peruse the rest of the blog!

  4. I don’t know who you are – just found you today. But you’re in my brain. Stay there and give it a voice, please. I haven’t had the exact garage troubles you have but I did knock a rear view mirror off while not paying much attention to the side of the garage door and also forgot to put a car in park (although I did put the parking brake on) and it rammed into the closed garage door. I have a child in kindergarten and two more at home and any day now I fear someone is going to call me out and be like, this human should never be in charge of other humans. I still feel like I’m 15 and auditioning for a state wide chorus in which I sang my alto 2 part the whole way in tenor 1. So that was great. I didn’t even go to school for singing which I wanted to do because I already knew I would fail. I’m so happy that you’re still perusing your musical talents. I’m so much more grey without doing music. I have finally admitted to being ADHD at the ripe old age of 32, and knowing that helps a lot.

    • When I posted that story about ramming into the garage door, so many people responded that they had backed up into their closed door! I think everyone struggles more than we ever see. 🙂

  5. My kids are almost the same age, I can really relate to this brilliant post. My son has that same eye twitch from too much Minecraft..

  6. Kristen.. I think you are amazing!! I’ve been following you for awhile now and you crack me up on the daily! Please don’t ever stop the blogging! My birthday is in a few days and someone in my family is getting me your book. I can not wait to read it! Doing a little happy dance over here while I wait patiently for it! Thank you for the laughs, it’s the only way we are all getting through these days!!

  7. Steffani

    I blame our parents (mostly). they were always doing everything for us, making sure we were having such a “better life than they did” that we are still trying to figure out how to do things for ourselves… not to get all analytical. Plus i like to blame them for just about everything…