As I think is true of many women, I have often felt like a fraud. On the surface I have all of the trappings of a successful life- a happy marriage, a career that I love, dear friends, a wonderful old house on a hill…but with every success there also comes that inner voice that whispers, “You don’t deserve this- you aren’t really good enough- you just fooled people…you are a fraud.” I have worked long and hard to silence that voice, to render it powerless from stripping me of my power, of me, sometimes with more success than others.
Why is it that we as women have to fight this battle? To question every happiness, every accomplishment? Why can’t we embrace ourselves as we are- the good, the not-so-good, the dark, the light? This constant pressure to be perfect, to do it all, wears on the soul over time, and instead of helping us to reach that Mecca of perfectionism, it has the opposite effect, casting an aura of failure and doubt over everything that we do. I remember milestones along the way- times when I should have felt ecstatic- successful recitals, completing my Doctorate in Clarinet Performance with straight A’s, winning two college jobs in one week, winning an office on the Board of the International Clarinet Association…but the voice was always there. “You really didn’t play that well.” “Those professors were just being nice to you about your grades because you are nice.” “You don’t really deserve those jobs- there are so many people better than you- soon they will know the truth- you are a fraud.”
How do we silence that inner critic, the one that paralyzes us and prevents us from relishing in the beauty that is our lives- our lives now– not in some distant future where we will be “perfect”…whatever that means. I don’t have all of the answers, but for me it is a daily ritual of gratitude for what I have and who I am, all while working to redefine what perfection means to me. Perfection used to be reaching the perfect weight; now perfection is being healthy, eating and exercising in a way that gives me energy and makes me feel good. Perfection used to mean being what I thought others wanted me to be; now perfection is surrounding myself with people who love and appreciate me for who I am- warts and all. Perfection used to be never making mistakes; now perfection is giving it my all and doing my very best- and being okay with whatever happens after that, knowing I’ve done all that I can do.
Each and every time I shed another layer of that need to be perfect, the voice that whispers “fraud!” in my ear fades just a bit more. I don’t know if it will ever completely go away, but I do know that I will never stop battling it as long as I hear its siren call. The older I get, the more I see how precious every day of life is. Why waste it worrying about phantom ghosts of our own creation? I am not and never will be perfect, and it’s high time to embrace that and celebrate the humanness and beautiful individuality of that lack of perfection. It is not a flaw, but rather, a gift. Another layer shed…and I feel lighter already.