fearEvery so often, my world gets shaken (not stirred), and I end up feeling like a fraud.

What I mean by that is that one or more of the following automatic negative thoughts appear in my mind (and often more, creating that “negative thought spiral” I love so much):

  • I have no idea what I’m doing.
  • People who believe in me are wrong.
  • Why can’t people see the truth?
  • I am a hypocrite because I still have trouble practicing what I preach.
  • Soon I’ll be discovered, and then… (there’s never anything here, other than terror).
  • I should give up now, before anyone can see me fail (again).
  • Why do they think I’m ____? (smart, confident, capable–insert whatever here)

One might see these feelings as natural and to be expected, as I’m still in the early stages of completely changing careers mid-life, but I know it goes deeper too. I remember feeling this way walking down the halls of the high-tech job I stayed the longest at– even after a few years into the job when I might have felt “settled in”. So what is this “feeling like a fraud” thing about, really?

Ah, my familiar friend: fear. I’m not good enough. I’m not smart enough. No one likes me. Follow that train and I end up in the place where fear morphs into sheer terror: I’m alone. Completely and utterly alone.

Why do we often feel alone? (Ironically I know I’m not the only one who suffers from this.) Is it because we’re not being truly open, but rather walking around coated in an impenetrable armor that doesn’t allow others to really get close to us? Is it because we’re all wearing masks that hide what we’re really feeling? Is it because technology has distanced us, even though in many ways it functions to bring us closer together? Is it because we prioritize work, chores, errands, and general busyness over cultivating our interpersonal relationships? Is it because we hardly ever look each other in the eye, or ever really see past the wonderful lives people appear to have on Facebook? Is it because we’re always comparing ourselves to someone who has something better than us?

Regardless of the causes, what can we do to re-connect with our fellow travelers in this life? Here are some ideas:

  • Really listen to a friend complain, letting her know that it’s OK to feel what she feels, rather than judging her or trying to fix her problem.
  • Ask a person in the service industry (your barista, your cashier, your bus driver) how they’re doing today, and focus on their answer and their body language enough intuit what might really be going on.
  • Call someone on their birthday rather than commenting on their Facebook page.
  • Write a letter–yes, a hard-copy letter and snail mail it–to someone you haven’t talked to in awhile. Remind them of some small kindness or fond memory you shared.
  • Sincerely apologize for something you did and are not proud of, whether or not you know what triggered it or whether it was warranted.
  • Let a challenging topic go, especially if you’re not willing to be open to another point of view.
  • Pay it forward: buy the next person’s gasoline or sandwich. Leave an (anonymous but) inspiring note behind.
  • Smile at everyone, even if you don’t initially feel like it. Notice what happens.
  • Share something you know with someone, and/or learn something new from them.
  • Go to a Meetup or social event where you don’t know anyone, and make it a point to find out who 1-3 people are.
  • Sit at the sushi counter (instead of at a table with your iPhone or book) and strike up a conversation with the other lone soul sitting next to you.
  • Introduce yourself to the neighbor you’ve lived next to for N years and discover something you have in common.

And when all else fails and the fear takes over, build and hide in a pillow-fort until the storm passes, or someone digs you out (because they always will).

Other thoughts? Ideas? Can you relate? Share them please. None of us wants to feel alone.

Feeling like a fraud? Alone? Fearful? It may be time to re-connect.
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