Why Beginning Again is Worth Feeling Stupid
Updated: Sep 17, 2019
I've spent a lot of time and energy on this earth attempting to portray myself as someone who possesses a certain mastery over life. This is partially because, as a child, I did. I was just good at stuff without much effort. I accompanied my choir on the piano in 6th grade. I won countless art contests, essay prizes, singing competitions. I was the premiere stage actress of Eastern Kentucky. (Off-off-off-off-off-off Broadway.)
Then I entered a larger world, and that world snapped its sassy fingers in my face and said to me, "Girl, you ain't all that."
This realization---that there were tons of others just like me out there, and many better looking, more talented, harder workers---well, it was a tough beer to bong. Insecurity planted itself inside me and grew like a vine so that, even when I was celebrated for my efforts at whatever the task was at hand, I didn't believe I was actually in the same league as everyone else. I was an impostor, and nobody knew it but me.
To battle my feelings of being less-than, I just doubled down on acting like I knew what I was doing. Man, did I hate criticism, or people pointing out the little holes I had hoped I'd covered up with my charm. But most the time, they didn't. Instead, most people saw me as whatever I was attempting to be or do at the time: a teacher of college students. A published author. A licensed motorcycle driver. A commercial actress. A 27-year-old. A well-adjusted human. Only I knew the truth: my cohorts were the real thing, while I had somehow squeaked in under the radar; I had fooled someone into hiring me or certifying me, and now I had to keep pretending.
When you get into the habit of being seen as an authority of sorts, it's hard to want to try new things in front of others, because you have to go through that bumbling phase of feeling it out, not knowing, and looking like a moron. You risk exposing the fact that you are just playing it all by ear and in fact know nothing. Maybe you have to ask questions, and maybe the person who gives you the answers is younger than you, with more money and credentials, and no cellulite. It's enough to make you want to hide in a closet.
But imagine if you never again had the experience of doing something for the first time, for fear of everyone knowing you're not the pro you profess to be. You'd never try a new dish at a restaurant because you might pronounce it wrong. You'd never learn anything new or make new friends. You'd end up like this man I know who is an esteemed professional in his field, but too insecure to talk to anyone who has interests that don't match his own because, God forbid, he might look like he doesn't know everything while he listens to someone tell him about their career as a botanist.
I was never this extreme; I was just insecure enough to always want to look "cool." Even while I was doing something out of my comfort zone, I wanted to look comfortable.
But one event changed all this for me.
I got knocked up.
Being thrown into a situation where you're an absolute beginner is humbling; there's only so long you can pretend to know what you're doing before you break down and have to ask for help. There is no looking cool in the ultimate new beginning: becoming a mom. Your brain begins undergoing major construction delays that won't allow you to finish a thought, let alone a sentence, and your body---your most familiar home---becomes unrecognizable in behavior and appearance.
Feeling stupid became second nature for me during pregnancy; Every couple of weeks I'd have to adjust to a new normal, just to discover a new surprise knocking me off my high horse.
My Body: Hey, you think you're doing well because you figured out one thing you can eat without barfing? Well how do you like this: now you can't feel your fingers and you're going to drop every glass of liquid you touch! Also, you have to sleep sitting up.
Me: I surrender. I'm sorry for pretending to be anything other than an idiot.
I went from being hard on the outside with a soft, gooey center, to the opposite: a vulnerable mess on the outside who was growing a secret iron spirit. It was like the Universe was giving me a crash course in accepting myself as-is: being where I was, without feeling self-conscious. When you spend nine months feeling like roadkill, having to show your bulging privates to someone new every month or so, you stop caring about how others perceive you.
And after my babies arrived, I had to exercise my vulnerability every day. I couldn't pretend to be an expert in raising twins, no matter how many books I had read or experts I had consulted. Every day was (and continues to be) a new lesson to learn, usually publicly. The first time the nurses placed the little sucklings on my naked chest, I was in a room with about 7 people, including my father-in-law. The learning curve was steep, and everyone was watching.
I had been reborn along with Taika and Aya. I was not an impostor anymore: this was the realest real I had ever experienced. I had carried these two until I thought I'd break, and now they were here with me, skin-to-skin, breathing without me, and I had made them, without being an expert. I had made them by just listening, the way a beginner must listen, to myself, to others, to the babies inside me.
As they learned to crawl, so did I: I found a way to talk about what was going on inside me. I found community in wonderful other moms who gave me the gifts of understanding and advice. They told me it was okay if I felt like crying every day. They told me I could call them when I felt like nobody in the world understood, and as awkward as I felt sobbing on the phone with these women I barely knew, it helped.
As the babies began to walk, so did I. I dared to take my bloated, misshapen mom bod into exercise classes filled with tight-bodied twentysomethings, knowing I was to be seen as the "old lady." I dared to get back on a surfboard, even though I knew it would be like starting over and everyone in the water would treat me like I was a total kook. Slowly I relearned my strength and began to stitch back together the muscles in my middle that had loosened and split. I caught one wave and fell off. I caught another.
Now the babies are running, dancing, singing, telling stories. It's been two years since my rebirth, and I know it's time for me to do the same. Of course I have to look like a dolt to get anywhere, and I don't mind anymore. So I got back onstage with people much cooler than me to do improv. I started writing again. I find myself in class with 20-year-olds (and, thankfully, other moms doing the same thing I am), learning Interior Architectural Design. I wanted to try something totally new that was artistic yet practical, and I find that the New Me enjoys learning these things. I think of how much harder this would be if I gave a crap how how others saw me; I wouldn't ask questions in class, I wouldn't risk bombing onstage, I wouldn't share my stories because they expose me for the amateur that I am.
But this is where I am right now: a beginner, re-learning how to run.