I’m a fraud, and I’m going to be caught.
For decades, this has been an underlying thought in my head. In fact, it’s been hanging around my brain for so long that one of the few constant themes in my dreams that I can remember is the inclusion of government agents or some other group of people working for an overarching organization that are set on capturing me. Typically, despite numerous evasive maneuvers on my part, each dream (more like a stress-inducing nightmare really) would end just before I was apprehended. Either that or I have the classroom dream, but instead of lacking clothes, I’m lacking knowledge and I’m finally going to get a bad grade.
Of course, now that I think about it, the last couple of decades (maybe even the last few since, let’s be honest, I am just about to start my fourth one) have really just been a much more varied and nuanced version of those dreams.
Except I’ve never been caught.
Well, not in the sense where I have to admit that I’m a fraud at least.
When the first notion that I had fooled some person or group of people into believing I was something I was not came into my head, I was probably in grade school. Chances are, it revolved around my intelligence since I didn’t really have much more going for me at that point. I guess you could count the dinosaur sweater I wore in my class photo one year as something, but that depends on your interest in dinosaurs. At the time, and I say this well before any T-Rex bit down on a goat and chased a Jeep, I was really, really into dinosaurs.
But that’s not relevant to this story, and it certainly wasn’t something I felt I was pretending to be. I was seriously into dinosaurs.
What I wasn’t seriously into was school. Sure, I studied, but I spent as little time as I could in the library and that wasn’t because I could access everything on the Internet. I don’t mean to shock any one, but there was a time during my academic career when the Internet wasn’t even a word. Of course, when it did become a thing, and words like “ICQ” came along with it, I spent even less time studying. Yet somehow I managed to get the grades, and there was no intervention to tell me that I had to change my ways. Okay, maybe there was the occasional request to go to bed by whichever parent found me up at 2 or 3AM watching South Park, Beavis and Butthead, or whatever random movie was on at that time, but that was about it. Needless to say, these late night habits led to falling asleep in class numerous times, but since my grades were fine and I didn’t cause any trouble, I got away with it.
Moving into high school, and even further into my university years, I swore that I would change my horrible studying habits if my marks ever suffered. Despite that promise to myself (and even some roommates and study/lab partners), I never did change the night before cramming sessions or the late night “what classes can I skip to finish this report in the morning?” situations. In hindsight, it’s possible that I just lowered my expectations in terms of what constituted a good grade, but what is most likely the case is the possibility that I didn’t feel I deserved to be doing good.
Now that I’m out of academia, it doesn’t feel as important to the sense of being a phony that I still have, but it was the foundation for sure. At the time, I never felt like I put in the effort needed to get the grades I did, and I even coined the term “geek luck” to describe those moments when I would receive a good mark, a test would be postponed, or some other event would happen to counter the fact that I simply wasn’t prepared at the time.
Solid theory or not, seemingly conning my way through academia wasn’t enough for me, and I eventually found myself donning the hat of a music promoter through a series of random events at my part-time job at an Internet cafe. Although the cafe only ran as a music venue for a brief period, I managed to persuade a large majority of the local music community, as well as plenty of touring musicians, into thinking I knew what I was doing. Whether it was an all-ages show, an outdoor festival, or a multi-province tour, the musicians kept showing-up to work with me even when I thought it was obvious that I was just stumbling.
At some point during all of that, I started to dabble in publishing as well. First, it was vegan cookbooks, and then a dining guide. From there, since no one seemed to see how out of my league I was, I decided to kick things up a notch and start a magazine. Years later, I took the plunge and quit my full-time job to focus fully on what is probably my greatest con of all, and that’s what I’m doing today.
I’ve published twelve issues, successfully funded an anthology through Kickstarter, spoken at several veg festivals and conferences, and travelled throughout North America to promote the magazine. With readers around the world, some would consider T.O.F.U. Magazine to be a success, but I’m not one of them.
For me, that feeling, that gnawing suspicion that I was getting praise, attention, or recognition for something while believing that I didn’t deserve it continues to this day.
And, if I’m being completely honest, I’m still waiting to be caught.
As if to further solidify that statement, since I started working on this piece, my dreams have been filled with ill-prepared test days, presentations with no materials, and more. It’s not like my mind has to work much on creating these scenarios. They’ve been rehashed and replayed a thousand times, and I doubt they’ll stop at any point soon. They’re like a long-running play on Broadway, but I’m the only one with a ticket.
That being said, thanks to conversations with other business owners and folks who I’ve looked-up to for one reason or another, I’ve come to realize that everyone is stuck in their own play, and the only reviewer we believe is ourselves. No matter how much success we achieve, or how much praise we’re given, we always find a way to write it off and tell ourselves that we were just lucky or folks are being polite.
But what if they’re not? What if we really have accomplished great things? What if we have learned things that other people don’t know? Is it so wrong to think that maybe we’re capable of that?
Ryan Patey is the Editor of the long running, pay-what-you-want digital publication T.O.F.U. Magazine.