“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
So, as I’ve already discussed, I have big plans. Plans that involve putting my whole future in the hands of some people I’ve never met in some far-away country. What I haven’t discussed is that I’m doing it for THREE countries. AND national fellowships. Why I am more than tripling the amount of fear in my life, I’m not sure, but what I am sure about is that I’m also more than tripling the amount of self-doubt.
The problem with wanting things is that you become invested in them. You think about the things that could happen if you got your way, you imagine your life if you’re successful and where you’ll be if you get to go to some prestigious university in some faraway land. The biggest problem with becoming invested is that you don’t actually need to believe that you’re capable of achieving it to be disappointed when you don’t. I haven’t had my hopes dashed yet, but I’m anticipating it like I’d imagine people tied to the train tracks in those old Western movies felt when they heard the train approaching.
This is for one simple reason: I’m sure I’ll fail. Lillian and Addison, being supportive friends, would tell me that I’m being silly, but I can never tell how much of that is because they actually believe that I’m good enough (in which case they are very easily fooled!) and how much is because they’re being good friends. I honestly don’t think I can/should/would be able to compete with some of the brightest young minds in the world – I managed decent grades at University, but I’m still not really all that sure how I did it.
If I feel this way, I suppose the question is simple: why did I even decide to try? I know that Measure for Measure is hardly Shakespeare’s best-known or most well-loved play (I’m a Shakespeare fanatic and I wouldn’t even say I like it – for a “comedy”, it’s really quite dark!), but it does have one line that seems unbelievably profound: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” This line really hit home for me when I first read it, when I was about 16 years old. How many things had I chosen not to try because I was sure that I wouldn’t succeed? Too many, I guess. Enough that I made a point to try things, even if I thought that I would fail. I didn’t want to be responsible for “losing the good that we oft might win” just because of the fear of failure inspired by my crippling self-doubt.
That said, actually trying has been the most terrifying experience of my life. This was particularly evident to all of the people who saw me in the days and weeks leading up to my first fellowship interview – never in my life had I felt so wholly inadequate. I was sure that they had made some kind of mistake – it couldn’t possibly be me that they wanted to interview! I was so sure that I had somehow snuck in under the radar, had tricked everyone, that I was [initially] both surprised and ecstatic to hear that I had made it to the next round of selections. Ever since, I’ve been stricken not only by the ever-present self-doubt, but also by a horrible sense of inadequacy. In a case of textbook imposter syndrome, I am sure that they’ll all find out that I’m not as good as they thought, that they’ve made a horrible mistake, that I’ve made a horrible mistake in dreaming too big and aiming too high.
I’m on the train tracks, waiting for the train with no way of moving out of its path. What’s worse is that I picked the damn train. And I directed it straight at me.
Well, that was a stupid decision.