Flying by the Seat of Our Pants

Imposter Syndrome: doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud.

I first felt imposter syndrome when I became a starting player in my first varsity game. I felt that same denial on my first day at college, my first promotion, and my first big title and salary increase.

While I was accomplishing exactly the things I set out to do, there was always that voice of doubt questioning if I really deserved it, “Do I really belong here? Or was this some big misunderstanding?”

It’s a weird feeling when you grow up and realize that the grown-ups you admired are nothing more than kids who just kept getting older.  You notice it with each passing birthday. One day you’re young wild and free, and the next day the kid working the register at the grocery store calls you sir.

“Sir? When did I become ‘Sir?'”

In my mind, I’m still a sixteen-year-old kid figuring it all out. Some days I wake up confidently and know that I belong where I am. “I’m an adult,” I say, “Let’s go do some adult things.” Some other days I feel like Tom Hanks in the movie Big.  I’m a sixteen-year-old kid looking down at my wedding ring, my house, my own car, a job commuting into the city, wondering “How did I get here?”

“Grown-ups” are people just like you taking a guess at life. Teachers, parents, coaches, mentors, and bosses all do their best, but even they would admit they’re flying by the seat of their pants. There is no right way to do anything. Everyone is going through life just as clueless as you are. And if you say or do something with enough conviction, most people will assume you’re onto something.

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact. And that is everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. – Steve Jobs

Life is like a personalized video game where everyone experiences their own version of the game’s alternate reality. You get your own headset. Some people start off at Level 10 with vast resources, instructional videos, and tokens to level up. Others have to start all the way at the beginning with no tools, coaches, or instructions to help them learn the rules of the game. The game’s challenges, solutions, villains, friends, and foes are all unique to the headset you were provided.

On the one hand, it’s frightening realizing nobody knows what they’re doing. How has society not just crumbled? Are we one or two bad decisions from a Mad Max situation?

On the other hand, it’s a relief to know humanity has been able to organize itself into an orderly society with laws, basic human rights, police forces, open access for all, and traffic lights that people obey. At our default, humans can be quite obedient. When disaster strikes, we look to the smart people to give us guidance but more often than not, as we’ve seen, even the smart ones make dumb decisions.

It’s comforting to remind ourselves of the fact that no one has it all figured out. But even so, it’s gotten us this far, warts and all. At the end of the day, we’re living on a floating rock, hurling through space while rotating around a huge ball of fire. So if there’s one common bond that can unite us, it’s that we’re all just flying by the seat of our pants.


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