You hear it all the time.

“She’s got it all together.”

“I don’t know how he pulls everything off that he does. His life is awesome.”

“I could never handle all the things that you do – and you don’t even seem to think about it. You just do it.”

What is it about “having it all together” that’s such an admirable goal? It seems to infer that if you show that you’re struggling, or having a bad day, or having a bad year, that you’re living an inferior life. That you’re failing. Or better yet, that you lack some basic trait that “all together” people have.

Bloggers or writers, like Michelle at Rubber Shoes In Hell, or Jenny Lawson at The Bloggess poke fun at life, and make us laugh at their self-described absurdities and chaos. Yet I hear people say, “I couldn’t open up like that. She’s talking about what’s real all right. But how does she get everything done? She lives life, and she writes.”

We can turn anything into something intimidating. 

If you’ve read my posts for a while, or have seen me as therapist, you know I like to tell stories. So here’s one for you.

Several years ago, I was generously offered inclusion in a Masters class in musical theatre by the instructor, Amy Herzberg, who had directed me in a musical a few months before. My classtmates would be people who were getting their MFA, Masters of Fine Arts. All had a bunch of experience on the stage.

Let’s simply say I didn’t have much. And they were more than twenty years my junior.

I went to the class, met everyone, and was immediately intimidated. They were very friendly, but all talked about this show and that show… I talked about what I had done in college (that would’ve been that twenty-year mark again…) and one local production. We got our assignments and I hightailed it out of there, thinking, “I’m no so sure about this.” I went to one more class, but called Amy the following Monday morning.

“I don’t think this is for me. I’m so intimated by them.. my gosh, they’re so experienced. I don’t belong.”

She started laughing. Guffawing actually.

“Do you know what I do Sunday nights?,” she asked.

“Nope.”

“I have all the graduate students over to my house for dinner. Do you know what they were talking about last night?”

I said nothing.

“They were talking about how in-ti-mi-da-ting you are!!!”

“What! Me??? Why???”

She went on, laughing. I had a Ph.D. blah blah blah. I couldn’t miss the irony.  So I took the class, learned a bunch, met some great people, and had a marvelous time.

Idealization. It’s a crazy thing. And we do it all the time to one another. We see things in someone else that we admire, and immediately project our own fantasies about what it must be like to be that person. Think of your favorite movie star or local celeb. How do you idealize them?

But how do any of us realize we’re idealizing others? That we’re being intimidated by those around us? How do you recognize when you’re allowing perfect-looking posts on social media to get to you?

Please remember my story. You have no idea how others are perceiving you. Michael Yapko, an international expert on depression, will say that none of us has the right to believe you “know” what others think of you. It’s your depression that’s whispering constant negative things about yourself in your ear.

“Nobody would care about what I have to say.” “I’m a screw-up.” “I could never do that.”

There is one thing that “intimidating” people do.

They risk.

So many of us shy away from any risk at all. So you don’t try. You stay safe.

Let’s go back to my story. When I think rationally, all of my former classmates were risking coming into a Masters program. Being evaluated. Striving to learn more about what they wanted to do. But I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. No, of course not. I was busy comparing myself to them.

They saw me as taking a risk as well. I was getting out of my safe world of being a therapist, and coming back into another world, a world where I was far more insecure.

Maybe that’s what was intimidating.

Risking feeling insecure. Risking a more public profile. Risking flubbing up in front of others.

You can begin taking a risk. It doesn’t have to be huge. But you can know that you did something differently than normal. You could speak to the person in the grocery story line that was behind you. You could get out your paints from when you painted years before, and set up your easel. You could walk in a gym and ask for a tour.

Small risks. They add up. They give you confidence.

Someone watching you might even think, “I could never do that.”

 

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You can hear more about Perfectly Hidden Depression and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford.