Turning the corner

Three weeks into my JSK Fellowship, I feel like I’m finally figuring it out. I am not usually a woman who measures her worth on others’ performance but this group of incredible people with whom I’ve been pushed into a community almost requires that comparison. So for almost a month, I have wondered, why don’t I know how to code? Why don’t I have a concrete path for my project? Why aren’t I sure who I’m supposed to interview, contact, pursue? Why haven’t I invested more time in getting more Twitter followers? How would I even do that?

And it’s taken two visits, one walk, two backstories and one d.school class to shake me out of this sort of haze I have been in since late August. The program director, Dawn Garcia, told me that everybody at Stanford suffers from imposter syndrome and I thought, “yeah, but I’m actually faking it.” But it has taken a series of small happenings to make me arrive at my new rosier outlook.

First, at a dinner with the communications masters candidates a fellow came to me and said, “How are you feeling about your project?” And, exhausted of trying to portray something other than what was directly in my head (and two Modelos in) I said “I’m not.” We went on to have a truth-filled conversation about how neither of us had any idea what we were doing. How we were impressed and intimidated by our colleagues who were so sharply focused on their challenge. How mortified we were that we weren’t. We also dabbled into justifying why that was OK but acknowledged that and laughed.

That same weekend, my brothers came to town. One is a English-as-a-second-language teacher in New Orleans and intensely smart and easily the funniest person I know. The other is a bartender in Phoenix and the other side of my coin. He’s quiet and sweet and snarky as hell. We talked about beer and Donald Trump. We talked about the hypocrisy of academia. The call to action we feel in our bones. The village that is raising my daughter. But we also talked about funny things: the Australian man we met at the bar who we were sure was not Australian; about bicycle gears; how my dad reads signs aloud; and we cussed in fake French accents. We howled with laughter late into the night. And god, did it feel good to laugh like that.

My brothers left on a Saturday, I spent the next rainy day doing the pre-work for my d.school boost class. As I wandered around my neighborhood, chasing my two-year-old daughter to make a dérive map for the Design of Data class, I felt good. On my block, in the rain, in my head, in my heart — maybe it was the rain but — I felt more than just OK, I felt at home. I felt like myself.

There were two backstories that teased me further out. First, the fellow with with whom I’d had the journalism-challenge conversation was up to bat. He was so willing to acknowledge that he knew very little about how to proceed with his challenge and he was so thirsty for input that I was inspired. Then on the same day I was starting my d.school class, another fellow gave a talk that should be required listening for anyone feeling like an imposter. His ability to lay vulnerable and admit that a challenge in his childhood had marked his entire life, along with his invaluable advice to his children that he was willing to share with us, made me realize that there is no reason I should feel alone or lost or other because we all feel alone and lost and other.

The d.school class required an early exit from the second backstory, my husband left early with me and walked me to class. On the way, because of the fellow’s life story, I found myself mulling over some of the more truthful reasons why I was dissatisfied with my job. Why I’d left. Why I was here. Somewhere between Memorial Church and the d.school, I found myself weeping. My husband didn’t hold my hand. He didn’t touch my shoulder. He just walked with me and asked me questions. He was exactly what I needed and what — after a few hard years at work, a toddler and a move across the country — I’d started forgetting he could be.

And then, I got to the Design of Data and for three hours I made infographics with salad, yes, salad and paired up with a person I don’t know about a California proposition I know little about. And I was so happy to be here.

I am here, at Stanford, with these fellows who I don’t need to compare myself to because I am among them. They are brilliant women and men who are generous with their time, their contacts, their expertise.

I am here, at Stanford, with my brilliant daughter and my amazing mother who has taken time out of her life just so my baby can be happy so that I can be more free.

I am here, at Stanford, with my husband who I’d almost forgotten is a great sounding board and just flat out gets me.

I am here. At Stanford. And I’m going to be fine.