I Spend a Lot of Time Doing This. I Need to Stop.

It’s exhausting to live your life in such a way that you are constantly signaling to other people that they should value you. It’s much harder to do everything with one eye on everyone else, to see what they think of you, whether they approve of you, whether they are impressed.

And regardless of what it may look like, my life has been spent pretty much constantly signaling to other people, instead of–as my father would say–tending my own onions. It makes me twitchy, sad, and irritable. It’s stupid. It’s also a habit.

Like a lot of people, I have a chronic case of Impostor Syndrome. I constantly feel that my clients, my bosses, my students, will wake up one day and say, “Holy cats, this guy really isn’t very good at (insert task here). We gotta get someone else.” In order to prevent this dire happening from…happening, I pose. I signal. “Look, I’m doing good work! See how I’m at my desk? See the books I bring to class? See my bright smiling face? You like me, don’t you?” I stay late. I send email at 1am. Much of what I do is designed to make sure people see the performance I think I’m supposed to be giving.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with that. Except, it keeps me from doing two things that would have a hugely positive impact on my personal effectiveness: one, it keeps me from enjoying myself, and that’s a tragedy, because most of my work is quite enjoyable; and two, it keeps me from working.

Right. I spend time trying to appear to be working, when I could be doing the actual work. Then I’m annoyed if people don’t notice, and I compose elaborate defenses in my head in case anyone accuses me of not performing. Instead of simply doing the work and getting the actual results.

Look, it’s not an all-the-time thing. I do real work sometimes. One reason I can send email at 1am is that I am not infrequently awake at 1am grading papers or writing or running mortgage numbers. So I’m not hopeless. But oh, how I wish I would just stop watching everyone else to see if they’re watching me.

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