Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Self-doubt In the Spotlight

I have a recurring dream.  And it's annoying and stress-inducing, to say the least.  Every now and then it would come and it has haunted me for years, even decades now.

The dream always goes this way:  I'm still in school, whether it's high school or college, and there's an exam...a MATH exam.  And it's always my algebra teacher in high school, even when the setting involves my college years.  It's either I didn't know there was a test and I go to class unprepared, or, I knew of the scheduled test but thought I had more time to prepare only to be completely proven wrong and made to feel like an overconfident idiot.  Either way, I'm always unprepared and panicked.  Then somehow, somewhere in the dream, I get this thought and say to myself, "Maybe it will be like that last time when she didn't include that part I didn't study for.  Maybe I'll be lucky again!" And then of course, soon I realize that I'm not getting my wish this time around, and that no, I wouldn't be able to 'fake my way through this one'.  (Yes, that line, that thought, crosses my mind in my dream).

My husband makes fun of me for having these dreams.  He always wonders why I keep having them considering that it's so far from reality.  He argues that I'm too organized in real life to be unaware of scheduled tests or be unprepared like that.  It perplexes him that someone who always has a schedule and sticks to it, and even ends up always finishing ahead of deadlines, can have such crazy dreams.  I just tell him it's my fear of, and aversion to Math.  I know that's partially true but I'm certain it's deeper than that.

It's always Math because it's something I'm not naturally good at.  For the anxiety to make sense, it would have to be something that I feel I need to realistically prepare for.  And of course school has to be involved because, not only did I spend almost half of my life in that institution, but it also represents something where we were all objectively assessed for our capabilities.  It's in our schools where we learned to compete, cooperate, and further made to realize that you need actual skills to make it in the 'real' world.  It's in our schools where we felt we had to prove ourselves before any real recognition could be given.

In my dream, other than the overwhelming feeling of being unprepared, the other thought that overpowers me is the thought of 'being found out'; the feeling that my math teacher was out 'to get me', 'to expose me' for the fake that I am...that I'm really not smart and don't really deserve recognition in any way, shape or form.

Perhaps I'm doubting myself, questioning if I really deserved the accolades I got when I was in elementary and high school.  Perhaps I feel like I'm not as sharp as the others who also got some form of recognition.  Perhaps this brings me back to the days I questioned myself as an academic, comparing my nature to the other professors I worked with when I was in the university.  Most of all, I suspect it has something to do with my feeling of inadequacy given that I have been a homemaker for the past six years.  

I am not revealing all this to get sympathy, or some affirmation of the value of what I do for my family now.  I also want to make it clear that I have no regrets and will not trade my position now for any high-paying job outside the home. This is what I want and feel blessed that I am able to do this.  However, the fear of the unknown is getting stronger and stronger.  Self-doubt is gripping me even more tightly as I try to confront the question of 'What's next?'  I might as well throw 'What are my real skills?', and 'What do I really want?' into the mix.

I know that the only way to confront darkness is to shed some light on it.  I am trying to slowly do that and I know I have to be gentle with myself in this long process.  I am hoping, however, that somewhere along the way, I will be aided by the wisdom of those who have gone through a similar journey.  Long and challenging treks, after all, are never fun when you're alone and without a map.

Do you find yourself asking the same questions?  How do you proceed from self-doubt?  Are there concrete steps you find effective?