You can't really move forward until you come clean. So eventually I knew I had to just throw it out there.
I maintained the fiction for a long time, mostly because I was embarrassed, and partly because the falsehood had a kernel of truth behind it, just enough to salve my struggling conscience. My then-wife even went along with it, even as she never let me forget the truth. But I thought I could just outrun it in time, so I kept it up, and repeated it over and over, till I almost had myself believing it.
Till one day a few years ago, while it ate at me mercilessly, I decided to out myself in a game of Two Truths and a Lie, right in front of a room full of coworkers, my boss among them.
Make three statements about yourself, one of them a lie, and the other participants had to guess which one was the falsehood. The more outlandish the truths, the more likely you could fool them. Everyone else had taken their turn, and the room was focused on me.
"I was an Eagle Scout in my teens." Number one.
"I've never travelled off the continent of North America." Number two.
"I flunked out of university." Number three.
They didn't get it correct. They all guessed option three, but it was actually the secret I had hidden for so very long, and now I had admitted it. My terrible shame, one that didn't mesh with anyone's opinion of me. I was the smart one, the one who could seemingly answer almost any question thrown at me, the one who could easily finish a crossword puzzle, the one with the expansive vocabulary, the one people said should be a teacher...and I was actually a failed student.
And once I had bared my soul, I realized it didn't make a whit of difference in the way anyone thought about me. No one's opinion of me soured. If anything, it seemed to add to my character, to the mystery about me. "How could he know all this stuff when he didn't even finish uni?" they would say when I left the room.
Oh, I don't really know a lot. My studies at the local community college before I moved away from home were varied: I took classes in almost every subject, and so my knowledge is broad but not terribly deep. Jack of all trades, master of none, or so the saying goes. I love to learn, though, and so when something takes my interest I investigate for more. I have found it to be a good asset for small talk, and it often gives me the ability to ask pertinent questions of people who know more on a subject than I...and increase my knowledge. I say, never be afraid to admit you don't know something, because people may illuminate you on the topic...and then you actually do know.
I fancy myself a "collector of interesting facts" and this propensity has lead to an ability to make people think I am much smarter than I am.
But admitting the truth on this failed venture at a university degree allowed me to finally start setting goals (actually trying to fulfill those goals would be another matter entirely, mind you). I carved myself a niche in the industry in which I found myself working, and I get to use my creative and teaching skills within it. It isn't where I really feel I want to end up, but it is a resting place while I have finally gotten moving on those goals, which don't feel so very far away now.
I just finished polishing up a story, a novelette with the uninspired title "The Tree". Once I settle on a new title for it as 2011 dawns, I'll be submitting it to anthologies. And re-writing my NaNoWriMo book is next.
2011 is going to be just awesome.