The fear of not being good enough is universal. For all my talk of disregarding the opinions of those who don’t like me, the main reason I’m afraid of being considered a poseur is because people don’t like poseurs; or perhaps more accurately, I don’t like poseurs. Paradoxically, it’s the very fear of not being good enough that pushes me to act like such an insufferable poseur.
As a reasonably intelligent kid growing up, I convinced myself that I was preternaturally gifted at everything. I interpreted the praise I earned for being smart or funny or creative as meaning I was the smartest, the funnies, and the most creative. If I wasn’t good at something, I disregarded it as unimportant; who want’s to be good at sports anyway? This kind of selective acknowledgment of my talents led me to believe that I was god’s gift to whatever I set my mind to. In a way, that kind of “I’m capable of anything if I work at it” is a positive bit of self-motivation, but in another way, it’s illogical, egotistical, and unhealthy. I was convinced I was a pretender:
I kind of remember that show sucking, but that didn’t prevent me from believing that I was capable of passing as a doctor or airline pilot or detective while doing their job. Of course, the idea of a child passing as a doctor is patently absurd:
but that didn’t stop 90’s television from telling me with a straight face that it wasn’t (Doogie Howser, MD seemed like high drama when I was a kid). The point is, I took the “you can do anything you set your mind to” mindset to an illogical extreme that kind of defeats its purpose as a simple motivational device. It wasn’t just that I could play the trumpet if I worked hard enough; I convinced myself that I could be the world’s best trumpet player. Again, it’s important for us to set goals, even high-minded ones, to motivate us to work; my problem was, I was also incredibly lazy. I could get away with that kind of attitude in high school, where outpacing classmates didn’t require much effort (if any), but college was significantly more competitive.
Suddenly, I was only competing with big fish, and in many cases was totally intimidated. My old technique of writing off my areas of inferiority could only go so far here. I wasn’t just studying music because I thought I was good at it; I was attempting to become a professional musician. My decision to switch from a performance major was fueled partially by the stubborn refusal to do anything I wasn’t the best at and partially by the more mature realization that I just couldn’t hack it — if I can’t compete against college students, how was I going to fare out in the real world? I imagine those two reasons cause a lot of the switching of college majors, especially ones involving performance of some kind. Let’s get back to my delusions, though.
Obviously, I wasn’t good at everything in high school. In fact, there were a good number of things I never did (and still haven’t done) simply because I knew I wouldn’t be good at them right away. This is why I’m so reluctant to perform in general. I’m afraid to present anything unless I’m confident that it will be the best thing anyone has ever seen, which is to say that I never present anything. That doesn’t stop me from preparing for performances, though. While I do enjoy practicing my instruments or writing jokes, the intention always seems to be that I will share them with someone at some point. Of course, I’m never up to the standards of absolute perfection, so that performance is always a long way off, and I’m starting to wonder if it will ever happen at all.
I think part of my desire to keep my talents under wraps is because I like the idea of everyone being surprised and impressed at my secret skills. Even my closest friends would gasp, “I didn’t know you could do that.” Even if the story is untrue, I like people thinking that I had this effortless talent for something. Or maybe I think there’s something noble in toiling away at something for years in secret. I don’t really know. The point is, I spend a lot of time working on “performances” that may never see the light of day, simply because of my perfectionist streak. This makes me hypercritical of the performance of others, partially because I think I could do just as well, and partially because I’m jealous that they went ahead and performed anyway. I think it’s common for performers to be hard to impress, which makes sense for someone who has studied the craft, but also sucks for someone who purportedly loves the craft. Being unimpressed isn’t cool; it’s often rude, poseurish, and has become one of my least favorite traits. Moreover, I can’t actually claim that I could do better unless I actually do it. I’ve got to put up or shut up.
On a more personal level, I need to remind myself why I like the idea of performing (or doing anything, really) in the first place. Sure, the accolades feel great if you do well, but that’s a terrible reason to do something, and completely ignores what I would enjoy doing. I’ve been able to remember why I like the things I like when the stakes are relatively low (when I haven’t invested my identity in my success), but otherwise, the thing that really holds me back is the fear of embarrassment if I don’t do well. Everyone experiences this, but I’ve increased the stakes by convincing myself that I’m naturally good at everything; failure isn’t just a momentary embarrassment, it’s an assault on my self-image.
I need to accept the fact that I’m not perfect at everything (or anything, really), and that it might actually take some failures to get good at the things I want to do. It’s obvious and sounds hokey, but it’s not something that I’ve ever really successfully internalized. In a way, I think this blog has helped a bit. Not all of these posts are successful as entertaining (or even coherent) explorations of poseurphobia, but I’m willing to post them all the same. Now I just have to raise the stakes and put myself out there for something that I actually care about.