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Return of the impostor




Sometimes I feel like an impostor. Actually, more than sometimes.

I stand in front of classrooms full of students. We talk about media writing and public relations and creativity. And I wait. At some point in any given semester, I know the question will come that I just can't answer.

Fifteen years ago when I started teaching at UCCS, I was petrified. What a hoax, I thought to myself. I'm being paid to teach; I should know everything.

A decade and a half later, I still like to be a few steps ahead of my students, but I enjoy not knowing. I love teaching communication because there are no specific formulas. There are very few perfect answers in my field.

I tell my media writing students to embrace ignorance. There's nothing wrong with not knowing. What is wrong is being afraid to admit you don't know, pretending to know or not being willing to find out. Stupidity is chronic. Arrogance is enduring. Ignorance can be fixed.

Unless, of course, you're the parent of teenagers — as I am. I've had to embrace my ignorance and hold it close, stroke its hair and reassure it almost daily that it's going to be OK.

When my daughters were young, I read books on parenting and subscribed to magazines (I did stop short of joining a mother's group). I figured this was the most important job I would ever be tasked with — the truth must be out there.

But if there's one area of life where we're all impostors, it's parenting.

Now that my girls are teenagers, I'm not sure it's any easier, but I've learned to trust myself. And once in a while, I pat myself on the back and think, "I did OK." When Maxine (who just turned 18) was a junior in high school, she was struggling. She was bright (sure, I'm biased, but it's true) but high school was not a good fit. We took a giant leap of faith and as soon as she turned 17, she tested for her GED. A year ahead of the plan (whose plan, I've asked a few times over), she started college, where she lived up to that potential I knew she had.

The worst mistake we make as parents is comparing ourselves to others. When your neighbor's kids are potty-trained by 18 months, you wonder what you're doing wrong. When your daughter is the only one among her elementary school peers not accepted into the gifted and talented program, you think maybe you should have breastfed a few more months. Constant Facebook posts of your friends' perfect, happy families can make you doubt yourself. (Pro tip: The Joneses are struggling just as much as the rest of us; no need to keep up.)

One more place I sometimes find myself feeling like I'm pretending is right here.

I write, but I'm not a writer. I imagine real writers have a deep, insatiable need to put words into the universe. I happen to be able to put words together in a (hopefully) readable and (sometimes) entertaining fashion. I don't journal. I don't blog. My words flow as the deadline approaches. No deadline? No words.

I will never write the great American novel and I'm OK with that. I don't need to make up stories. I've found life is fascinating if you're paying attention. I spent the past year on something of a sabbatical from writing this column. I was still telling stories, mostly in the classroom but also 140 characters at a time on Twitter.

But I never stopped collecting the stories I wanted to share here in the 700 or so words that comprise this column. The name is changing from Local View, but the idea isn't. Twice a month, I will be telling local stories; sometimes about the hidden (or not so hidden) gems in our community; sometimes answering questions that plague me; sometimes tackling issues from a more personal perspective; and sometimes just sharing with you the fascinating and ridiculous things that happen when you're paying attention.

So maybe the lesson here comes in the form of a cliché: Fake it until you make it. We are all impostors. And many of us spend too much time trying to be something we are not. Stop living by other people's standards and embrace your own.

(Editor's note: Going forward, Laura Eurich's SemiNative column will run alternate weeks from Ralph Routon's Between the Lines.)

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