Some of you might have noticed this already — I recently made a diversion from my usual style of writing at GoHatke. Instead of writing in the usual article format that I have been using, I wrote a short story. The story was about Roy Jackson, a farm-boy who loved to play the piano, but found (to his great disappointment) that he was nowhere as good as his classmates.
If you ever wondered what made me write about this particular person from a nondescript town in America, well, here’s how it happened:
A month or two ago, I heard the following piece of conversation on the radio. I recreate it here from memory as best as possible:
[Radio show host:] If you are joining us right now, we have with us today renowned psychologist Dr. Clara Henderson. We have been speaking with her about her recent book, “There’s an Impostor in the Building”. In this book, Dr. Henderson talks about the impostor syndrome, and about the many people who feel that they are not good enough for the work they are doing. Dr. Henderson, who are the people who are susceptible to impostor syndrome?
[Dr. Henderson:] That is the sad part. It could happen to anyone — someone holding a challenging position in an office, a student at a prestigious college, a tenured Professor… Somehow they develop the feeling that others are much better than them. That their success was not truly deserved. But in reality, they are quite good at what they are doing.
[Host:] Later in the show, we will talk about how your book can help people suffering from impostor syndrome. But first, let’s take another caller. Hello, who’s on the line?
[Caller:] Hi, this is Roy Jackson from Greenbay, Wisconsin.
[Host:] Hi Roy.
[Roy:] I was listening to your show and kept wishing that I had heard something like this when I was a freshman at college.
You see I got this prestigious music scholarship to get into a college in Chicago. But when I started in the music department, I found that all the other kids were faring better than me. And that somehow, I was the only one who did not do so well. Also I had grown up on a farm with no exposure to formal music training, while all the other kids had grown up in Chicago and were more attuned to the system. Anyway I kept feeling that I was not up to the mark while I was studying music. And one semester later, I finally quit music and switched to accounting.
If I had heard your discussion back when I was in college, maybe I would have stuck to it. I might have realized that I am not the only one facing such problems. People go to counselors these days… But back in those days, going to a counselor was considered a sissy thing.
Anyway, I finally did well as an accountant, and had a happy life. But now that I am retired, I get to think a lot. I keep thinking, “What if I had not quit?” I might have been a piano teacher right now. And maybe, just maybe… I would have been happier in that life.
The worst thing is that when I quit music, I promised myself that I would never stop playing the piano. But you know… life gets busy. You have kids. You have to travel for your job. Long story short, I never really kept up playing the piano…
Roy’s story touched me deeply. What reverberated the most in my mind was Roy’s trailing thought, “And maybe, just maybe… I would have been happier in that life.”
Roy’s story was a sad one, and despite my singular dislike for sad stories, I decided that I must tell Roy’s story to the world. And that is how my short-story was conceived.
I felt that Roy’s experience could teach us something:
The world often makes us question our own capabilities –yet, sometimes, we should push back and question the world.
Or as someone aptly put it in a post on impostor syndrome, “Just because everyone else is an a**, it doesn’t make you a fraud.”
I have seen many friends and colleagues suffer from something like impostor syndrome at some point in their life. (Heck, haven’t all of us felt low about ourselves sometime or the other?) Cheerful, confident people have been sapped of their self-assurance and conviction. The reasons may have been varied — bad bosses, office politics, incompatibility with a social group, language problems etc. Yet, many have invariably blamed themselves first, and have suffered emotionally in the process.
Maybe Roy’s story can help us remember that life does throw you lemons from time to time. And it can remind us that sometimes, we do need to push back.
Finally, in my story, the ending does not hint to what actually happened to Roy in real life. The story ends at a crossroad in Roy’s life. He is left to make the decision on his own. Maybe that is the way life is supposed to be. Each one of us has our own decisions to make, and our own destinies to forge.
My only wish is that all the Roy Jacksons in the world have the courage, guidance, and good fortune to take the decision that turns out right for them.
[All names and details are changed in the above transcript as well as in the story]