I have a secret to confess. I’m faking it. Not orgasms, no no no. I never fake those. No, I had a moment today when I totally felt like a fraud in the whole production that is life. A moment that is all too familiar to me. I feel like I’m faking knowing how to be an actual grown-up. Even just using the term “grown-up” seems like a pretty clear indicator that I don’t know what I’m doing.
In recently visiting with family friends who have young children, I distinctly remember thinking, “I hope everyone doesn’t leave the room at once and leave these kids here with me… they need adult supervision.” Guys, I’m 30. I’m an adult, by every definition of the word. I can rent a car, I have a mortgage, I am at an age where my peers are literally growing people inside of them – on purpose.
By now, I’ve been in the professional workforce for almost a decade and have somehow convinced multiple companies here in the Silicon Valley that I’m worth six figures. I bought a condo. I bought a new car. I did the things I thought I was supposed to do. I saved. I spent…. a lot. I got jobs with tech companies that would offer me stock options. I leveraged those jobs for better ones. I learned how to log-in to my E*Trade account. I got a financial advisor.
But most of this was in the last 4 years. Before then, I was living in LA, dating every cliche I could find, spending almost half my pitiful income on my rent and the rest on bar tabs and shoes. Maxing out my contribution to a 401-K? Psssffft, please. I spent pretty much every penny I made and then some. And the economy hadn’t completely tanked yet, so I wasn’t really thinking about the future.
But at 26, when I moved back to my hometown in the Bay Area after a brief stint in New York (where I made zero dollars), I decided it was time to get serious, and put down some roots. So I’ve been doing all the things I thought a responsible adult should do – especially an adult woman who never planned on getting married and having a second income to depend on. And on the whole (especially to those on the outside looking in) it would seem as though I’ve done a pretty good job.
The truth is though, I have NO CLUE what I’m doing. I pretend I do – BUT I’M TOTALLY FAKING IT. I don’t really understand investments, or the stock market, or compounding interest. I don’t fully understand my homeowners insurance or exactly how my property taxes are calculated. I had no idea how loans really worked until I bought my condo, but I only stored that information in my brain long enough to sign the papers and set up auto-payment. Most days I feel clueless on at least one occasion. Usually more than one.
What I want to know is why more people aren’t talking about this. I read plenty of articles and posts about how hard it is to be a parent, and how moms really shouldn’t be so hard on themselves, because behind closed doors all parents are hanging on by a thread at some point, despite what their Facebook feed tells us. But the reality is, it’s not just parents… it’s all of us. We all want to seem like we have our shit together and that we know what we’re doing, when the truth is oftentimes we’re navigating uncharted territory.
I didn’t have a background in tech and the company I worked at in my early twenties was a joke, so when I got hired at these tech companies that have been my bread and butter for the last few years, I felt like I literally had no idea what was going on. I essentially hustled my way into those jobs – my background was in sales for a company that made teapots (seriously, we made mugs and teapots), but I sold myself into a career in tech sales. Pro tip: when it comes to sales interviews, a little bravado goes a long way.
When I entered that world, I would Google acronyms for things like KPI (Key Performance Indicators) and LTV (Customer Lifetime Value) and hope nobody caught me doing it. I had a customer tell me once they were looking for Ruby on Rails engineers and I swear to god, in my head I sounded it out and spelled it as “rubion rails.” I would listen in on conversations between coworkers as they discussed their stock options and frantically try to remember what RSU and ESPP stood for (Restricted Stock Units and Employee Stock Purchase Plan, in case you were wondering). How did these people know so much? Who was showing them the ropes??
I tried – I really did. I went online and tried to read different articles. I had a brief but unfulfilling subscription to Forbes. But most of the time I didn’t even know what I was looking for. And more often than not, the things I read felt foreign to me and the information didn’t stick. I’m a contextual learner – and I had no context.
So I mostly just picked up on things from friends and colleagues and then cobbled things together enough to make them work for me. I used my skills as a sales professional to bluff my way through conversations on subjects I had very little knowledge of (all you really have to do is ask questions – people love to talk, and they love to talk about themselves more than anything else). I’ve also had some lucky breaks – a company that was acquired, an unexpected residual check, etc.
But when I was reading an article today about how much you “should” have in your retirement account by 30, I found myself teetering on the brink of a panic attack. HOW? How I am so far behind where I should be?? I know how… I fucked around the first half of my twenties and now I’m playing catch-up, but hell, I thought I was doing really well. And I know my situation isn’t the norm, so how do people outside the bubble that is the Bay possibly come close to hitting these benchmarks?
I know we’re all just doing the best we can, but it’s hard not to compare yourself to others, especially in Silicon Valley. Reading about entrepreneurs starting companies in college, buying homes in cash, making millions – that’s all very real and tangible when you live here. I sell to these guys. Hell, I’ve worked with these guys. And when you fall into the trap of comparing yourself to those around you, it’s easy to come up short, and wonder what’s wrong with YOU?
At least, that’s what happens to me. I start to zero in on all of my insecurities and perceived knowledge or talent gaps. I start to think that maybe I just lucked into my current life situation. Part of me always feels like I may be revealed as the fraud I am at some point. That there was some kind of orientation into adulthood, into understanding all these things we need to be doing and planning and saving for, and I slept through that day. Which is totally ludicrous, because we’re all just winging it and making it up as we go (at least that’s what I tell myself to feel better about things).
Because even if there is a large percentage of the population who “gets it” and I don’t, that’s OK. I’m doing just fine. I’ll do what I’ve always done, and just keep asking questions and running Google searches until I find the answers I’m looking for.
And frankly, I’ve already mastered some of the most difficult challenges in any adult woman’s life: the perfect cat-eye liquid liner look, and how to apply false eyelashes like a pro. So, things could be worse.