The day I gave up the search
for who I ought to be
and waiting for the world to say
what should become of me
was the day I looked with my heart,
and what I saw was me.
That day I listened with my heart,
and what I heard was me.
It was then I created with my heart
and created me.
And on that day, I first saw
what had been there all along:
myself in the making,
right in front of me.


Ever heard of imposter syndrome? It’s the feeling that you’re a fraud or a fake. The thought that any minute, the authorities will knock down the door to strip you of your title and drag you out of there.

I’ve had that feeling for much of my life, especially in my professional life. I’d feel like everyone could see through my act, and I was just waiting for someone to call me out on it. I’d get momentary relief by throwing myself at another project or achievement as if that would turn me into who I was supposed to be, but it never lasted long. I’d reach my goal only to have the feeling creep back in.

One day, that feeling washed over me as I was introduced as the speaker for a workshop.

This is Dr. Ralph. She earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Texas Tech University. (True.)

And completed her postdoctoral residency at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa, California. (Also true.)

She went on to describe my expertise in cognitive behavioral therapy and my professional publications. (All true.)

Except…the person she described didn’t sound anything like me. Not one bit.

I’d worked so hard for everything on that bio, but once again, I felt like an imposter. Only this time, it was because I saw through my own act. This wasn’t me. Or at least not all of me.

Oh, I thought accomplishing all of those would finally define me and make me feel whole, but it didn’t. I was close enough for a while. I was approximately happy and sort of content. But at that moment, in front of a room full of very professional people expecting a very professional talk, the words felt as hallow as the shell of the person she introduced.

As I walked up to the podium, wearing my most professional and expert-like smile, a little voice inside said, “All I ever wanted to be was an artist.”

Where did that come from? I hadn’t taken an art class since elementary school, but there it was, clear as anything, ringing with truth in my ears.

I gave my presentation, and it went fine. I got plenty of compliments and even enjoyed it. Still, long after it was over, I had that pins and needles feeling of waking up. My rehearsed, professional mind didn’t know what to do with this.

So, what, are you supposed to quit your job or something now? 

Are you supposed to go to art school?

Now is not a good time for a mid-life crisis. What about the kids? What about your mortgage? And the student loans?

And what would {insert everyone I’ve ever known} say???

Honestly, I was afraid. That little thought in that little moment felt truer than anything else I said that day, but now what?

I tried to forget it, but the thought stayed with me. Sometimes it was gentle. A little tug here, a little curiosity there.

Write a story about a cat. Draw a bird.

Sometimes it was a strong pull, and not always a pleasant one. I felt sad. Anxious. Lost. For a while there, every day was an existential crisis.

When I was ready to stop resisting, I decided to listen.

I said it out loud in the car: I’m an artist.

I felt a little silly, but it also felt honest. And once I started listening, the next steps felt surprisingly clear. I needed to do something. Write, draw, whatever, just do something.

So, I signed up for a few online art classes and bought a composition book. I finally got it. Ohhhh…I’m an artist.

(Looking back, I’m surprised this was such a surprise to me.)

There were always words and pictures in my heart, but I hadn’t yet learned to see and hear them for myself. Not really. My ego had a way of getting in there and translating them into something more formal or academic or mainstream.

But…the day I called myself an artist was the day I chose to look, listen, and create with my heart. That day was an experiment to see how it even felt, and it was only then, after I said it, that it made any sense. That was the day that all the little pieces started coming together, the hints of myself that were whispering to me long before that moment behind the podium.

I didn’t need to quit my job or go back to school. I didn’t need to write a bestseller or hear anyone confirm what I already knew was true. The day I called myself an artist wasn’t even the day I thought what I created was good enough to be called “art.”

It was simply the day I followed what felt true even before I knew what the truth was. I’d spent enough time being professional and academic, what my spirit needed more of was time spent being honest.

And wouldn’t you know it? That was the day the words started flowing and the pictures in my mind became more vivid. And suddenly, everything made so much more sense.

I guess all of this is to say that your heart is talking. Are you listening?

If you’ve ever had that imposter feeling, step back and check in before you throw yourself at another achievement, and listen to what it’s telling you about your heart. If it’s saying that something’s off, then get curious about how to set it right.

You don’t need to wait for someone to tell you who you are or until you’ve accomplished the big goal to define yourself. Just courage – even the kind of courage mixed with fear and indecision will work (and that’s the only kind there really is).

Creating yourself, following your heart, and making magic, whatever that looks like to you, begin with the courage to follow what feels true – even if it’s just a whisper right now.

And wouldn’t you know it? That’s when all the little pieces start to fit together and make perfect sense.

First comes courage, then comes clarity. @ralph_leslie (Click to Tweet!)

When you look, listen, and create with your heart, what do you see? What do you hear? And who do you allow yourself to become?

Leslie Ralph is a psychologist, writer, and artist who hopes to leave the world a little brighter than she found it.  Her people are creative, sensitive spirits who crave love and peace, inside and out. Leslie is the author of There, I Might Find Peace: Poetry and Prose, Mantras and Meditations for Peace, Love, and Strength. Download her free gift, a ritual for receiving, a daily ritual for bringing more love and light, clarity and confidence, meaning and connection to your life. You can follow Leslie on Facebook or Instagram.

Image courtesy of: George Bohunicky.