“Janise Marie Zayas, with a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature,” the announcer waved me forward, handing me a tiny slip of paper that basically read I had finished my degree. It was an acknowledgement of a real degree on the way in certified mail, ready to frame and admire on a wall. I walked forward, a huge smile on my face and the sound of my family cheering in the background.
It was the moment I had waited for since I was 8 and I had promised myself I’d go to college and I would graduate. Back then it had been a dream partially sculpted by my parents and partly from books and TV showing off how fun college was supposed to be. Don’t get me wrong, it was a blast. It flew by in the blink of an eye and then it was over.
I wanted to walk those last few steps so slowly. I wanted to envision it all, my whole life that had led right up to those last few feet of stage. That’s the thing with buildups though. Such big moments like this in our lives always pass by so quickly like fog rolling down an empty street. There’s a sense of loneliness and in many ways an eeriness to it all.
The road ahead is murky and unknown. There’s a large sense of confidence we must gather to keep going ahead into that hazy mass of nothingness. Below me my feet felt as if they were growing in density and yet I seemed to move so quickly. My heartbeat in my ears drowned out everything else, I waved to the cameras, I smiled and laughed and watched my mom wipe tears from her eyes.
Everything was a jumble of muffled noise for a few moments. Just like that it was over. Four years of studying, late nights, endless papers, chapters of books read through half-closed eyelids, and lectures that seemed to stretch for hours- all wrapped up in a ceremony that took less than 3 hours.
You’d think I felt proud of myself. You’d think I would feel so accomplished and content. Most people probably did feel like that but I was far off in small room in the corner of my mind, freaking out. They had made a mistake, I thought, I didn’t deserve this diploma. At times school had been hard yeah but for a large part I didn’t feel that I had strained myself past my limits. There were less than a dozen times when I had studied for more than a few days on any one topic.
Hell, most of the books I had been assigned for my classes I had read halfway through and skimmed the rest. I had skated by on bullshit and carefully structured writing, what felt like little research, and lies. Was this it? All there was expected of me to receive something deemed so precious by so many? I felt like a joke with a really, really, really bad punch line in the end. Like a comic strip on a tender taboo subject- just hard to look at.
This wasn’t the first time I had felt this way though. Imposter syndrome is something that has plagued me my whole life and continues to even at this very moment. Sometimes I wonder if I really am a good person, a loving girlfriend, a decent friend. Can I really say I’m not the tiniest bit racist? (of course I am, everyone is right?) Do I really enjoy being a ‘one-of-the-guys’ kind of girl? Am I really a good person or do I just play myself off as one?
Then again if I’m not trying hard then how do I get by the way I do? I’m currently studying to receive my Masters in Social Work so you can see how these questions weigh even heavier now. Social work people! I’m studying to help others. As in- that will be my career for the majority of the rest of my life. How in the hell can I do this if I don’t really care?
As the years go by I’ve learned to have more confidence in myself. I’ve learned more about letting the little things go and crossing bridges only when I get to them. A large part of this practice has been modeled after my father. He’s, as some would say, the pinnacle of self-confidence. He loves looking at himself in the mirror, he’s never shown fear in the face of any adversity, and by many means he’s everything I wish I could be.
While I may never reach the Himalayan heights that my father currently resides in I’d like to think I’m making steady progress up the hill. It’s taken me years of practice to get even to where I am now and I still have frequent episodes of panic when I wonder if I’m really doing all this or if I’m just faking it. Yet I push on.
My mother used to say to me when I was little, “Everything happens for a reason.” I always took comfort in that and not just because it’s a common saying but because she used to say it to me at all the right times. Just when I was starting to doubt myself or when I would question my own judgment she’d remind me that no matter what the outcome, it’s ok because there’s a reason for it. I should never be afraid to jump or be myself or question what I’ve done because it’s led me right where I needed to be.
So fake or not, real strength or pretend, I am who I am and everything I’ve accomplished is my own whether I see it or not- in the immortal words of my mother, “No one can take that away from you.” No one but myself right?