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I went to a salon yesterday on the topic of Dying Well. The dialogue was wonderful, and I could fill a small book with the ins-and-outs of the discussion, but I just wanted to share one fragment.

(I wish you could have been there for all of it, but this, at least, is something.)

Midway through the conversation, someone at the table brought up the notion of the “imposter syndrome”: that feeling that, despite your position or accomplishments, you’re still just “faking things,” and that you’ve fooled others into thinking you’re smarter or more capable than you really are.

He mentioned that it took a great deal of pain and struggle for him to come to the understanding that he wasn’t “faking it” any more. He went through a difficult period in his life, and surviving that test meant that he was no longer afraid of being unmasked. He looked around the table, and wondered out loud whether that pain and suffering were necessary. “Are there any of you who feel as though you’re no longer “faking it” and who haven’t experienced some great or painful challenge?”

A beautiful question, I thought.

Various voices spoke up. A few mentioned how it was the gradual accumulation of successes in their lives that made them feel more self-assured. They mentioned how launching a few companies and seeing these businesses thrive made them feel as though their was something to that sense of competency that others saw in them, and they began feeling as though they were actually accomplished and capable—that they weren’t acting “as if” or, again, “faking it.”

I appreciated this, but I couldn’t help but share my story. I’m not one of those who was spared the crucible.

I no longer feel at all as though I’ll be “found out” or that my accomplishments and abilities are somehow the result of me fooling others, but I came to this understanding only after hitting rock bottom.

I was destitute and jobless and scrambling, a little ball of self-hatred whose entire identity was more a puppet to addiction than anything recognizable as a personality. I hated what I’d done to myself, and, even more, the damage this self-sabotage had wrought upon my family and friends and those people I purported to care about. It was more than a life wasted—it was a life that was inflicting pain in the mere being.

And it was from there that I came to realize despite all this, it was a life worthy of being loved. Despite all this, I was still a human being who deserved to be cared for. It was from that position, of having literally nothing else to lose, that I realized I already had everything.

I don’t know. I’m sure that there’s nothing wrong with a self of self-confidence founded on the evidence of success. I just find a certain peace in knowing that even were I to lose, again, everything, I’d still be fundamentally okay. My concern with the other route would be that, if I started suddenly to fail and if all my projects were to collapse, that I’d wonder again at my abilities. Maybe I was once worth something, I might fret, and perhaps I’ll be worth something again in the future… but right now I’m a failure. I feel an odd comfort that I’ll never have to worry about this again.

I’m not sure why I feel so compelled to share this here. I’m not sure how it will come across. But I do wish I could instill this in others: there is nothing you can do that will make you unworthy. You’re loved. You’re worth it. There is no other way.

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