stolen from the reality you’re living: thoughts on imposter syndrome, pressure, and being present

Around holiday times, I take extra time to consider my adoption story. The day of my adoption is in December, along with holidays, it brings different thoughts and feelings considering family.

I can’t help but think about who my biological parents were and what kind of lives they were living at the time I was born. What was their meeting like? Literally anything about who they were, I ponder. I was born premature in July, so it was probably around November or December that I came to be. What was it like for my parents to expect a child? Shameful? Exciting? Were they happy? Did they talk to their parents? They probably panicked and emotions likely ran high. Up to my birth, how did my mother handle a socially unaccepted pregnancy? Where did my dad go between my birth and now?

As wishful it is, there’s a danger in going down this rabbit hole. And, for adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents, any kind of hypothetical chasing could prove dangerous. Sure, it could be framed as hopeful. But it can also lead to false expectations and preconceptions that don’t fit reality of our narrative.

There’s a lot of could-haves in an adoptee’s story. It’s hard not to think about how life could have been in Korean foster care. Or what it would’ve been like if my Korean parents stayed together for me. I’ve met a lot of adoptees with similar and different stories than mine.

Honestly, it shows how much of a fucking lottery adoption is. Some of us were dealt really shitty hands. Some of us, were a bit more tame along the adoptive family spectrum. It’s nerve-wracking, really.

I think, personally, it adds to how much pressure I put on myself. In this weird could-be-anything dynamic: I could be doing better, making more money, living happier, or advancing my career. And in my head, this could-be is just as real as “could-be a Korean foster care product” or a “could-be much more traumatized by uneducated parents”.

The hardest part, and by far the most important, is being mindful that the “could-be’s” are not. And it feels so parallelly close to the life I’m living now. And it’s a thief that steals from my present life. I can’t help but feel grateful, guilty, and sad at the same time about this. Moreover, I have a lot of empathy for any adoptee and their own messy story.

But lately, I feel that my imposter syndrome pulls strength from this fact. From the parallel could-be lives that I can’t get away from.

Which is why it’s so important to value narrative and true self-empowerment. Taking mindfulness seriously, going to therapy, opening up, and practicing gratitude break my lived reality from the parallel ones. If you have felt similar to this, I know you understand beyond just “being grateful” or “taking a deep breath” like I’ve been told.

Self awareness is a double edged sword, but staying present amongst the edges helps us to not get cut. Coming back to knowing people that love me, having a safety net to crash into, and keeping with the “one step at a time” mantra helps me to do that.

The holidays are always a mess of a time emotionally. Make sure to let your emotions breathe this winter, and don’t forget to do something that you truly enjoy because if you have any of these ideas like me, then I know you take yourself to seriously.

Love, Karl

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