Today’s Fresh Air featured the second half of a recent interview in which political satirist Stephen Colbert, also an accomplished singer, discussed “musical moments” he finds particularly meaningful. He loves the Herod song from Jesus Christ Superstar, and a mid-seventies demo by Elvis Costello, but the one that caught my attention was a song by the Ben Folds Five called Best Imitation of Myself.
I’ve been struggling for some time with two issues: imposter syndrome, manifested lately by an overwhelming feeling of incompetence in a new job and the fear I will soon be uncovered as a fraud; and disconnection, as I realize I’ve neglected to form and nurture the basic relationships that create a satisfying personal life to counter the pressures of work and the world.
And so I pretend—that I know what I’m doing at work, that my life is balanced and full, that everything is under control and running smooth while in my head and my heart I know it’s all a fake.
When I listened to the Ben Folds song the first time, I heard echoes of my internal imposter dialogue: “Did I make me up, or make the face till it stuck…” [How in the hell did I create a persona that projects competence where there is chaos? Did I wear the mask so long it stuck to my face?] “Maybe I’m thinking myself in a hole/ Wondering who I am when I ought to know/ Straighten up now time to go/ Fool somebody else, fool somebody else….” [Uh-oh… There’s a chink now, you started overthinking, letting on you don’t know what they think you do. They’ll be onto you soon—time to move on, before they find you out, to another set of expectations you can fool someone else into thinking you’re up to.]
But when I listened again I realized what the song really describes is my other issue, disconnection—someone who’s pretending to let people know him while actually withholding—and guarding—who he truly is. “Last night I was east with them/ And west within/ Trying to be for you what you wanna see… And if my mind’s somewhere else/ You won’t be able to tell/ I do the best imitation of myself.”
In a TED talk a friend sent me, Brene Brown says you can’t form real connections until you allow yourself to be vulnerable. Everyone has issues with vulnerability; I absolutely deny and defy it, and that attitude has not served me well. I bemoan my isolation and yet I can’t even open the door to connection because I refuse to allow myself to be vulnerable.
“Yes it’s uncanny to see/ You’d really think it was me/ The best imitation of myself.”
As long as I refuse to be vulnerable, I will continue to be an imposter, and I will continue to be disconnected. Not myself, but my best imitation.