Imposter Syndrome

mask on wall

In talking with people about their aspirations day-in and day-out, I’ve come to understand that we ALL experience imposter syndrome at some point. (Those of us that don’t, have much bigger problems.)

Here’s the truth: It doesn’t matter how smart you are, what level job you hold, or how big your house is. It doesn’t make a difference if you’re President…

You simply don’t know everything and you never will. This means you may not be comfortable in certain situations.

But that doesn’t mean you’re not awesome.

Imposter Syndrome happens when you find yourself playing on someone else’ playing field and keep measuring your performance against theirs. Rather than trying to run alongside them, huffing and puffing, I suggest figuring out how to get back on your own turf.

For example, if everyone in the room is talking about their big, fat bonuses, stop and think about what’s important to you. Then operate from there.

If people are speaking eloquently in double-jointed sentences and it intimidates you, realize you can change the game by speaking from the heart.

If the topic is about something you know little about, sit back and enjoy learning.

If everyone is talking passionately about politics and you put your love into something else, talk about that.

Although it may not seem like it, no one person in a room makes up the rules. And no one person, ever in life, can tell you which set of values you have to operate from.

Hell no. Blow the whistle on that shit and get back on your own playing field.

Always seek to improve yourself.

And win on your own terms.

What Creates Kindness?

Finding my roots

Are we innately driven to be kind? Or do we have to work at it?

Is kindness linked to some greater purpose or is it just another goal.

Why am I so obsessed with it?

Where did it come from?

My parents are certainly kind. My mom was a nurse, not just in profession but in her heart. She is almost too helpful. My dad checks in on everyone he passes, especially the guy sweeping the floor. How you doing, brother? After all, that was his dad: the janitor everyone passed.

I didn’t see much kindness in my grandpa but I think he was just sick of kids by the time I came around. And he grew up unfree. To be black in the 19th century. How does kindness survive that?

Some of my great aunts were the sweetest people I’ve ever known. They even got nicknames for it. Kindness found a way.

And further back… Great Great Grampa Percy, you ambitious lot! Sharing an office with Frederick Douglas! Daring to be smart, educated, and black during Reconstruction. You fled DC for some reason, and it probably wasn’t kindness.

What about the other side; the White side? Grampa Vic was always fixing things for people. And doing it for nothing. If I even mentioned something was broken, I’d come home from school and it’d be fixed. He didn’t love me with words; he loved me with his screwdriver. And a litany of pancake breakfasts.

Let’s go back a bit further…

Trailblazers with Viking blood crossing the sea. Constant struggle. Building their own houses, losing people to the elements. Working the land. Heavy hands, calloused fingers.

But that’s nothing compared with the stinging pain and transgenerational cruelty of the whip.

Great Great Great Great Grampa Chief Tecumpseh, the articulate, optimistic diplomat who had the outlandish idea that he could unify the tribes. A consensus-builder, a revolutionary, against all odds.

He represents the best part of my heritage, which is no one part, but rather all the parts: the mixing.

Tribes with Tribes.

Natives with non-natives.

Confederates with Yanks.

Black with White.

Immigrants with non-immigrants.

What can I say? I was born to blend. Programmed to unify.

The blood of my rivals mixes in my own veins. It stirs like a storm. It burns from conflict and cools with tenderness.

You see, I am kind by design, by necessity. And for this I am grateful.

If I’m to be who I am, to honor my heritage and those that made me, well, then I must love. And love hard in all directions.

The lesson is in my bones. The story is in my roots.

Like an oak reaching toward the sun, I wake up to the same task.

My work is clear.

That Time We Snuck Into The Most Elite Club in Denmark

black and gold panel on -2

Me and my friend Jesse had some pretty awesome adventures in Europe in our twenties.

Probably one of the best moments was sneaking into The Most Elite Club in Denmark. That’s how it was described in our travel book.

The Most Elite Club in Denmark. Don’t even try to get in.

We tried to get in.

The only entrance was past two 7-foot tall bouncers in front of a gold elevator.

Jesse, equipped with some acting talent, found 5 supermodels who agreed to let us trail behind them into the elevator. I think he told them he worked for MTV, which he did. Sort of.

Anyway, after a very awkward elevator ride, we made it into The Most Elite Bar in Denmark.

I don’t remember the name, but I’ll never forget the interior. It was all white: the floor, the ceiling, the walls, the bartenders’ tuxedos. There was no odor and no temperature. The place was the meaning of the word clean, the edges of everything, sharp and well defined…

It felt a lot like standing in a hermetically sealed heaven.

Or a 5-star hospital with extremely comfy couches.

Our brightly colored drinks, in their triangular glasses, resembled Star Trek elixirs.

We’d made it. The Most Elite Club in Denmark. Beautiful architecture, incredible views. Possible celebrity sightings. You can never quite tell.

The people were pretty enough to be actors, leaning into each other and sharing secrets.

We walked around, trying not to squeal.

We probably would have stayed all night, had we not ventured to the far end of the club.

It was empty of people, but there were tiered rows of white tufted chairs all facing the same way, like a poofy home theater. Only, instead of a screen down in front, there was a floor-to-ceiling glass wall. You could see all the way down to the first floor which, quite surprisingly, was not white and vaccum-sealed at all. Rather, it was filled with masses of gyrating, bouncing, pulsating people. Hundreds of them. If I had to pick a color for that room, it’d be red. Almost like… well, Hell, I guess.

It looked less like a dancefloor and more like the earth was erupting. You couldn’t hear the music from behind the glass but you could see the sweat on peoples’ skin, and, if you tried to, you could feel the bass pushing up through the white marble floor.

Jesse clutched my arm, without taking his eyes from the glass. “We gotta get down there, ” he said.

“Yeah, I know.”

But there was a catch: that pulsating first floor was an entirely different club, another venue altogether. It was not The Most Elite Club in Denmark. Rather, it was the club next to The Most Elite Club in Denmark.

And if we left, we couldn’t get back in, because, as you well know, we’d snuck into the club in the first place.

We got another $28 drink and sat down to think about it in the most comfortable chairs I’ve ever known.

Sometimes, we shape our story by the thought of telling it to people later on, and, in the process, end up telling someone else’ story and skipping an important chapter of our own.

Or maybe we just didn’t want to pay for $28 drinks.

It wasn’t a hard decision. We were mid-chapter and we knew it.

Upon entering the club next to The Most Elite Club in Denmark, the atmosphere changed immediately. And we changed, osmosis at work, molecules passing through the skin and eyes.

The thick warm air put sweat on our skin, the bass filled our lungs, and the people, with their flailing arms, splashing drinks, relaxed hips, and smiles as bright as the sun, beckoned us inward.

We became part of the volcano.

The room was a pit of people.

We rocked back and forth in a wave, all of us, stomach to back, elbows up and out of the way to make room for more people. We flowed like the tide. My movement wasn’t even entirely up to me anymore.

Someone knocked me on the head from behind. It was Jesse. He was already 2 people away from me and floating away in the people-tide. We laughed big inaudible laughs up into the rafters.

Past his head, way up there on the wall, I could see the glowing white rectangle of The Most Elite Club in Denmark.

Two figures stood side by side, not touching, arms bent holding Star Trek drinks.

So many chapters unwritten.

I knew they couldn’t see me. It was silly, but I waved, an exaggerated wave like I was trying to get someone’s attention on the other side of a busy street. It was the least I could do for them.

Alas, they walked out of the glowing white frame without giving me a signal.

But a trio of sweaty-faced dancers just a few feet from me… they waved back, the same silly, genuine, over-the-top wave.

I laughed.

They laughed.

I laughed again because we weren’t laughing at the same thing.

But, then again, maybe we were.

That club. It was a cauldron of silliness. An unpredictable lava flow. A seismic shift prompted by intense physical closeness and tribal-like bass beats, shaking the room above just enough to keep it from being perfect.

Redness bleeding into whiteness. Hell reaching up into Heaven.

Or the other way around.

Talking About the World

leaves in the water

My daughter calls it “Talking about the world.”

Daddy, can we talk about the world?

This means she wants me to pick something she doesn’t know about and explain it to her. And she doesn’t want kid things. She wants adult things. It started when I needed to explain how you catch Covid.

I surprised myself with my knowledge. Explaining things to a 6-year-old really proves your competency level. You have to distill shit down to its essence and then be able to field very unexpected questions.

Why can’t it jump farther than six feet?
How is sickness alive?!
How come some people get hurt by it and others don’t?

In that same car ride, she asked about the construction workers we passed. So we talked about them.

I’ve talked with her about taxes. The Earth’s crust. Divorce. Socks. Life before computers. Slavery. Art class. And snooze alarms.

Yesterday we went out into the rain and looked at clogged sewers and leaks in irrigation hoses. (It started with splashing in puddles; only little splashes since she had on sparkly blue cowboy boots. Then we talked about how the puddles formed and we were off to the races.)

In grad school, I learned that Learning is the way we play and have fun, especially as adults. Piles of research support this. Contrary to what our teenagers tell us, our dopamine actually goes up when we study. We get physical, measurable pleasure from the act of learning.

Another thing I learned (yay!), this time in Lit class is that Teaching is the final stage of Learning. (I think it was Plato that came up with that one.)

So there it is. Such an easy way for a 6-year-old and a 48-year-old to get a fix of joy: walking around the block and talking about the world. Stopping to stare at sewer grates and leaf piles in the road, we let our brains work things out.

We both kicked at a pile of leaves that had built up around a drain.

She spoke first.

Leafs and drains are not friends, she said.

Not all the time, I said. But if it weren’t for drains, leaves wouldn’t get to ‘water-slide’ down the gutters.

I pointed up the hill to the leafless tree on the side of the road.

She followed my finger up the hill and then followed the little gutter river down to her feet.

I could see her dopamine rising.

And, from the smiles of the people walking by (and the compliments of the cowboy boots!), it seemed like our little conversation was making a lot of other people happy too.

I’m hoping it does the same for you. 🙂

When You Realize You’re Not Black

Blue-Police-Siren

My dad is black and I’m mixed race but I look white, which, I’ve come to realize, means I’m not really black. If you’re a mix of things and wondering what you are, just look at the way the world holds you…

(If that’s too obtuse, think of the costumes you’ve worn on Halloween. I tried to be Don King one year and it didn’t connect. I was Cassius Clay another year. No dice. But Braveheart and Captain Morgan, they landed just fine.)

More proof.

In my childhood, my dad was always talking about “the system.”

Don’t get caught up in the system, he’d say. Once you’re in the system, it’s all over.

When we started driving, his warnings got more frequent, but me and my brother (also pretty white-looking), would roll our eyes. We didn’t have time to worry about the system. We had hijinx to do.

We zipped down the backroads in search of the biggest bumps we could launch off. We smashed mailboxes. We egged cars. We spun doughnuts in the parking lot. We wrestled on the roof of the car while someone else drove (Seriously?). We blasted our radio in the drive thru. We drank and drove, way more than we should have, often while doing all of these other things.

And we got caught.

The cops were always dicks but they never arrested us. We never found our way into the system. No guns drawn, no records ruined. We just had to pour out our beer, promise to not smoke anything more on the way home, and mostly just wait out an annoying lecture.

One time a state trooper yelled at me for speeding and he was so close to my face, the brim of his hat kept hitting my forehead. The whole time he yelled at me, I was thinking about my beer under the driver’s seat, tipped over and pouring out.

The point is we were stupid. We were doing everything in our power to land ourselves in the system. Dad’s warnings didn’t work on us. They didn’t even make sense to us.

It wasn’t until later in life, after talking with my black friends in college, and my black cousins, and my black neighbors, and black dads in the dad’s club, and my black drinking buddies, and the black guy at the bus stop… that I realized what my dad’s obsession with the system was about.

He’d been giving me “The Talk.”

The talk is usually delivered by a black mom, but my mom was white so my dad did it instead.

He’d make us look right at him. Then he’d sit on the edge of the couch like he was in the driver’s seat. He wasn’t fucking around.

You get pulled over, I don’t care what you did.
You keep your hands on the wheel. Like this. Both hands.
You move slowly. Speak when you’re spoken to.

Yes, sir. No, sir.
Other than that you don’t say anything.

Nothing.

We made fun of him once we got outside.

Frickin dad.

We didn’t realize he was trying to save our lives.

And maybe he did.

Or maybe we were lucky.

Or maybe the cops in our town were cool.

But I can tell you this: the people who have the same stories as me — near misses, hijinx without handcuffs — they look a lot like me, people who could pull off a pretty convincing Braveheart.

And the ones who didn’t get off so easily, who got questioned a bit longer, who got a mark on their record, whose names made it into the newspaper, who spent a night in jail, who were accused of casing their own house while sitting parked in their driveway, well, they look a lot like my dad.

Put another way:

I know I’m black because my father gave me “The Talk.”

And I know I’m white because he probably didn’t have to.

How lucky are you?

Sunshine at Pickup: A Lesson in Transformation

The subtlety of the changes in sunlight

I arrived to pick up my daughter at after-school-care at 6 on the dot, which means Hazel was the last kid left. She was cleaning off the tables with the 3 teachers. It was a peaceful scene, a real contradiction to my own hurried state.

The program coordinator stopped her sponging and looked right at me, as I dropped the pen into its little plastic pen box:

“Hazel is the sweetest person in the world. She is just so sweet.”

I wasn’t ready for that.

That very morning, Hazel was a pill. She refused to put on her clothes and she nearly made all of us late.

But the compliment made me look deeper, as compliments often do.

Before her refusal to put on clothes, she walked silently into my room, climbed into my lap and gave me a long, slow hug. No words. Just sweetness.

And after she had refused to put on her clothes (but finally did!), she remembered where my glasses were and ran upstairs to get them.

We tend to remember the areas where we want to improve, not the good stuff that’s already going well. I think it’s a human thing. It’s definitely a parenting thing.

And in fixating on those sharp, salty moments instead of the smooth, warm ones we underscore a story we don’t like, when it’s well within our power to go the other way and become the person we want to be.

“She IS sweet,” I said. “Thank you for taking the time to say that.”

Hazel was listening. She beamed. And I believe she changed, just a little, like how the sunlight changes color without anyone noticing.

It’s that simple.

Instead of slamming your failings and wishing to be better, cherish the moments in between and realize you’re already the person you wish to be.

And then be more of that person.

The Magic of Santa Claus

Santa Clause with Folded Hands

I’ve always struggled with telling my kids about Santa Claus. I have to look away when I answer their questions, and I try to layer in at least a shred of truth.

I don’t know how he does it. I guess it’s magic.

I’m not thrilled about this.

It’s the only time I lie to them.

And I think it has ramifications.

How can we scoff at their “ridiculous” idea of monsters in the closet when we’re telling them outright that a man comes into our house through the chimney at night while they’re sleeping.

Kids are smart. They know if a good man can enter the house without permission, then a bad man can too.

Then there’s the inevitable heartbreak I’m setting them up for when they discover Santa is not only unmagical, but he doesn’t exist at all. It’s not an easy let-down; usually, the news is delivered by a schoolmate who is eager to watch the grim transformation spread across my kids’ faces, just as it did his own.

And who’s the first person they come to to verify their painful discovery? Me, the head accomplice in the fabrication, the originator of the snow-white lie.

A crack in my perfect dad armor.

I have to find some way out of this.

I can’t go around dissing Santa. He’s everywhere.

And I don’t want my kids to be the ones that ruin it for everyone else.

What to do?

My mom kept it going through high school. She’d hand us gifts that said “from Santa” in her handwriting, wrapped in wrapping paper she kept in her hamper. She’d gently kick the present over to us from under the tree and raise her eyebrows as if she didn’t know where it came from.

It was never the best gift but it was always something unexpected, something we didn’t ask for.

And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me smile, even as a nappy-headed, sleep-hungry teenager who was always on the verge of leaving the house.

As a kid, even when you know something can’t be true — werewolves, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus — there’s a little piece of you that wonders if it is.

In growing up, that little piece disappears. In time, we look under the stage and behind the curtain. We lock ourselves in our rooms to check the closets and look up our sleeves.

We stay up late to deliver cookies and wish lists, hoping to be the first one to see the Big Man.

Alas, we never find the magic we’re looking for. That’s the hard part in all of this.

But perhaps that’s the good part too: seeking something that defies all the rules and laws we work so hard to understand.

Maybe the disappointment is worth it for the wonder.

To believe something that just can’t be true.

That kind of thinking makes us stay up late, get up early, and ask silly questions. It allows us to continue walking when we’re tired, to create love out of loss, to build castles out of sand, and to keep our kids smiling through divorce.

Sometimes The Truth is less helpful than our belief in magic.

That’s something Santa would say.

I mean, if he existed.

Creative Collaboration

Lately, I’ve been writing about how to replenish yourself in times of stagnancy and distress. Here’s another trick for you:

Creative Collaboration.

Creative Collaboration manufacturers hope. If you’re feeling low, if you can’t find the BrightSide, find a friend or colleague and build something with them.

In the wake of a devastating hurricane, neighbors ALWAYS rediscover hope in the process of rebuilding their community. There is something about the combination of kindness, discovery, and innovation that lights us up on the inside.

Sometimes we find ourselves among the wreckage of our own doing. That’s okay. The answer is always in our hands. And other peoples’.

Reach out, grab hold of someone — any one — and something creative.

A small thing.

It doesn’t matter what it is. Once you get lost in it, you’ll find the hope that makes everything else possible.

Fear Not The Fakeness of Networking

Two people networking and having fun

Everybody hates networking, but no one expresses their disgust more intensely than introverts. (I’m sure some of you already despise this post!)

There’s a myth that introverts are shy people.

Not true.

They can be both shy and introverted, but these things are not one and the same.

Introversion merely refers to how you recharge.

Extraverts recharge through being with people.

Introverts recharge by being alone.

So as long as you leave enough room to recharge, you, as a mighty introvert, can network just fine, and come out on top.

But I’ll go a step further.

I would venture to say that introverts have a superpower when networking.

The thing about introverts is, though they may get drained by being in crowds, they deeply, deeply appreciate connecting with people 1 on 1, perhaps more than extroverts do.

Meaningful engagement is the eternal objective of introverts: finding that specific type of interaction that has clear give-and-take with plenty of room for deeper introspection.

Networking can be exactly this. Indeed, it works best in the form of fewer, richer interactions.

And, contrary to common belief, it fails miserably when it’s used as a platform to talk about oneself.

One slow, balanced conversation with one person.

You don’t have to be “on.”

You just have to be there.

Good Men

Men Hugging In a Crowded Room

I listened to a 15-minute podcast yesterday about two men hugging in a hallway.

They’d both lost their moms.

One was a young man, a high school student who had shut himself down in every way. The other was a football coach who “didn’t normally do that sort of thing.”

There were no words. The coach quietly summoned the boy into the hallway with the wave of two fingers. It was in the middle of the day, during weight training. No pep talk. They just held onto each other.

20 years later they talked on the phone. They both cried and said I love you. Then the podcaster said I love you. And me, alone in my kitchen, I cried a bit too, and said I love you.

Virtual hug, said the podcaster. Hell yeah.

So much wrong with the world but I really believe this — this sappy, storybook moment between two men is what we all need, what the planet needs — more men hugging in hallways, connecting through tears.

I had a good cry with my dad the other day, watching a little girl sing on American Idol. Unexpected, uncontrolled. Kind of ridiculous. It felt fucking great.

We were changing the world in that moment.

Still are.