Now you are in your 20s. You are about to graduate. Maybe you’ll get a decent job in spite of pretty average grades. Are you nervous yet? You should be. You just might be able to skid by for a while longer but surely before you’re 30 you’re going to have to show what you’ve really got. Having “potential” does have a shelf life and it does run out. At some point, you can no longer be the promising “kid” with great potential.

Here’s the irony of this dilemma: You don’t even know whether you really have something to fear. It’s just possible that underneath the charade and avoidance and sham you are really, really smart. You’ve just never been brave enough to find out. Then again, maybe you really are pretty shallow and you’re only good at the con. You haven’t been brave enough to find that out either. At some point, maybe this point, your only choice is in the timing of finding out and in your level of control while doing so.

Making a Decision

Here are the two obvious directions you can take:

You can decide to just keep playing the game. If you don’t have what it takes, there will come a point when some boss will figure it out. Bosses have a whole lot less tolerance for pretense than teachers. (Remember, at school, you paid the teachers. At work, the boss is paying you. That shift in the way money flows changes the rules.) This can be needlessly infuriating to your employer and embarrassing for you. Then again, if you do have what it takes, the boss, and you, will find that out too. Your boss will never know that you’ve been sweating a day of reckoning, hoping finally to be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

The problem with this strategy is the stress of living every day with the uncertainty and fear until there’s some crisis and the answer presents itself. You’ve put the control in the hands of others who are evaluating you on their terms instead of quietly finding out for yourself what you’re made of.

So you could decide to finally put up and shut up, to use what is left of your college career to really, really do your best and see what you’ve got. Sure, it will be scary. But at least you get to choose the forum for testing yourself. It will be a new thing to give yourself plenty of time to do an assignment, to do it with thoroughness, thought, and detail, and to do it on time. But you are more likely to see it through if you feel you’ve made the choice and that you are doing it to prove something to yourself instead of to someone else. If you face your fears and just do it, you’ll find out what you’re made of in short order.

Chances are you’ll do okay. Someone smart enough to sustain a bluff as long as you have probably isn’t stupid. The worst-case scenario is that you’ll find out what you do and don’t know. Once you figure that out, you’ll be able to do the work of filling in your gaps so that the actual and the potential begin to line up.

I have high hopes for Elly. She may be upset, but she is talking to me. There is still time for her to work on proving herself to herself in this, her senior year. Perhaps I can give her some of the support she needs to face her fears that she is an imposter and fraud and invest more in her work and in herself. I hope so. She’s been afraid long enough.