Tucked away at the back of my high school is a little brown door. I didn’t go through it until I was 16, and when I did I came out more puzzled than ever. Behind the door sat Mrs Ferguson—careers counsellor.
I’m not exactly sure what we talked about now, Mrs Ferguson, but I’ve been thinking for a good 15 years since. I think you failed to mention a few things.
I wish you’d told me that I’d complete around 20 years of education and at the end of it, rather than being giddy with knowledge, I’d feel highly unqualified. This would make me feel sheepish. What, after all, were those 20 years for? And so, when I did end up getting a job at a publishing house it would feel like a miracle and I’d spend years trying not to be caught out as the unknowledgeable person I thought myself to be. To be fair, I did know less than everyone else. But I did know something. Speaking of knowing things, you also failed to mention that there is a difference between being able to do something, and doing it well. So when I was thinking, Holy crap I can’t do this, what I actually should have told myself was that, I can do this. I just can’t do it well. Yet.
At first, I’d turn up to work and despite the voice that was telling me that everyone could tell I didn’t know what I was doing, work would get, well, done. Then, bits of it would become familiar. I’d see the patterns in it and after a while, years actually, I’d get to a point where I thought, Yep, I’ve got this. Finally. This is different to arrogance, and strangely it is not enough to do away with Imposter Syndrome, but it does feel darned good.
And it turns out the mastery I thought I wanted—that I’ve got this feeling—isn’t the point of it at all. It’s just a throughway into something else. I know this because the comfort I feel when I can finally do something well is always short-lived. I then get restless. My mind wants a new challenge and I have to pay attention to this. I have to follow the tugs and the pulls and use what I’ve learnt to begin something else.
In fact, if things go well, I’ll spend my whole life doing this. Jump in. Freak out. Begin. Do. Do better. Breathe. Think, I’ve got this. Time to up-the-stakes again. I have no idea where I’m headed. I just know I need to go now. Actually, beware the person who says they know exactly where they’re going. I think the universe saves banana peels for them.
Maybe it’s a good thing you didn’t tell me this, Mrs Ferguson. I would have stayed home in bed.
You also totally forgot to tell me that roles don’t really matter, hearts do. I feel like I’ve spent a long time looking for a job title that describes me. I still haven’t found one. I just found some that get me hired. It’s true, I need a job title for LinkedIn but let’s be honest, no one actually understands what it is that everybody else does. And why would I want to limit myself to a couple of words to describe how I want to contribute to the world? Two words are not big enough.
Job titles are made for search boxes. They’re not shaped like human beings so they make me think that I don’t have things in common with someone when I actually do. I just spent a few days with a group of about 80 people whom I had never met before. At the end of it I didn’t really know what their business cards said, but I knew what they cared about: helping kids become inventors, how to pay more attention and the art of cartwheeling off a mountain top. I had no idea if I was speaking to a CEO or a graduate. It didn’t matter. But in the real world somehow it does. I think this is our loss.