The closer we came to securing funding, the more my body would revolt. At first it was just my brain: I’d say we needed to shift direction, or survey our readers, or get more advice. I kept changing course. Instead of venture capital money, I decided we should talk to angel investors—wealthy individuals who invest in companies they care about and have less extreme expectations around making any money back. No, instead of taking money we’d have to learn how to spend, we should do a partnership with another media company that already has systems in place for what we want to do. OK, turns out they are also still flailing, or have expectations we are still too small to meet. So we decided to try again for angel money.
This went on for many months, meetings, and Google docs. Eventually, it was the Summer of Scam, starting with Anna Delvey, the young woman who pursued a lavish New York lifestyle on forged bank documents and “borrowed” cash, courted investors to fund her new social club, and is now in prison. I was on the subway when I first saw the headline—something like, “Meet the Wannabe Socialite Who Scammed Her Way Into New York’s Fashion Elite”—and my heart sank. The jig was up. It felt like everyone on the train was looking at me. I tapped on the article, shaking, already wondering why no one had told me that there was a viral story about my fraudulent life, and took a moment to fully believe that the girl in the photo was not me. No, I have never worn eyeliner like that. No, that is not my hair. No, I don’t remember this photo being taken. Oh, OK, this is another human being entirely. So, I took in this misunderstanding as a funny story about being insecure that I would tell to friends.
Soon after that, Elizabeth Holmes was indicted for fraud, and for her, too, my throat closed up. Now, Elizabeth Holmes did something very clearly wrong. Developing faulty medical technology, paid for in hundreds of millions of dollars by investors, and performing faulty medical tests, is bad. The woman thought she could outsmart science! The human body! BLOOD!!!! She risked people’s lives!!!!!!!! Still, I started reading John Carreyrou’s new book about the scandal, and it made me feel like I, too, was getting found out. It’s not like it’s written from her point-of-view or anything. It’s completely unsympathetic. It’s literally incriminating. I couldn’t finish it.
If a friend is ever having Impostor Syndrome, my automatic response is an impassioned “NO WAY, girl, this is just what the inside of doing something you care about looks like! That’s just years of oppressive systems making us feel like just because our faces aren’t on THOUSAND DOLLAR BILLS from the 15TH CENTURY, that we don’t deserve to have cool jobs!” And that seemed like a reasonable explanation for these little pangs of guilt, too: Of course I have Impostor Syndrome, I thought. I’m pitching to Bryces in tall buildings and using words like “incubate.” But I know Impostor Syndrome well, and what began to consume me was actually anxiety. For a while, I could attribute it to life nonsense: I was looking for a new place to live (who isn’t?), I have TMJ issues (who doesn’t?), my jaw was locked for months (*garbled* whose isn’t?), I needed jaw surgery (*on anaesthesia* RRAWWGAHHH), and then I could only eat liquids for a miserable month (*croaking* so how could I trust anything I felt while I was so tired and hungry?). TMJ, by the way, is stress-related. To which I thought: Well, yeah. I’m an intense wench who’s ground her teeth since she was a fetus because I care about what I do and I’m ambitious and I want shit. You know who probably isn’t stressed? BRYCE. Because he can afford energy healers. And one day, so will I. When these more tangible problems weren’t there, I could find other explanations for my emotional and physical state: the world, lack of perspective, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of getting what you want.
But one problem with thinking you know what you want, with being good at locating words, and with being praised a lot for both of these things, is that it is hard to notice when you are evading the truth. It is hard for the people around you to notice, too, because it seems you have never been wrong before. Even if I knew that I would eventually need to not be as responsible for Rookie-the-business, I was still the person who’d started Rookie-the-art-project, and I was ready to compartmentalize my anxiety/stress until the art project and business were both where I wanted them. I wasn’t a Bryce at heart, but I thought I could pretend for a few meetings or years in order to keep the art project alive and get myself some financial reward. I thought I could make my essential qualities malleable. I didn’t see that the life one truly wants probably wouldn’t require such shapeshifting.
No, I know Impostor Syndrome very well, and this wasn’t it. This was Scammer Syndrome, where you promise more than you can give.