Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Walt Whitman’s Thoughts On Feeling Like A Phony

In the last few weeks several people, in different career fields and positions, have made comments to me about feeling phony, like a fake, and as though they are playing a part in a bad play.

“Sometimes I feel like the biggest fake in the world.”
“I feel like an actor playing a part. It wears me out so much I can hardly wait to get home and just be me.”
“If they had known what was going on inside my head they wouldn’t have been so impressed.”
“I feel like a hypocrite when I’m coaching employees, because it sounds like I have my act together, but I know I don’t. In fact, in some ways they’re doing a better job than I am.”

Each of those people were seemingly successful, well-adjusted, happy and confident–but their conversation certainly was not. They felt unequal to tasks they were being given, undeserving of praise and unimpressive. They didn’t seem to be afraid they would be found out–they just disliked feeling phony.

Walt Whitman’s poem, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” has lines that fit all of us who sometimes wonder if everyone else is so full of self-doubt (sometimes self-loathing) as we are, and so full of unpleasant thoughts and impulses.


“It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,
The dark threw its patches down upon me also.
The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious,
My great thoughts as I supposed them, were they not in reality, meager?”
Nor is it you alone who know what it is to be evil,
I am he who knew what it was to be evil,
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
Blabbed, blushed, resented, lied, stole, grudged,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant,
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me,
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting,
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting,
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,
Played the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,
The same old role, that role that is what we make it, as great as we like,
Or as small as we like, or both great and small.”

Or, as my friend, Jeff Adams, pastor of Graceway Church in Kansas City, Missouri, says: “We’re all pretty much big messes.”  Walt Whitman would agree.

What about you? Do you sometimes feel like a phony or a fake, or as though the view that others have of you is much better than the view you have of yourself?

July 28th, 2013 Posted by | Keeping On!, Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 9 comments


  1. Perfect timing for me. I just spent a month on a retreat where every minute of every day seemed like I was acting. I said and did things I don’t really feel in my mind and soul. It seems like I end up digging a hole for myself that gets deeper all the time, and now I don’t know how to admit I was just saying the words but not meaning them. Any thoughts to help?

    Comment by K.L.M. | July 29, 2013

  2. Good to read you again. I’ve heard about Walt Whitman but haven’t really read anything by him. This had some good thoughts. I used to think women went through things like that more than men, but in the last few years, especially as a dad I feel like a big phony a lot of times. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it though, because I know that I do what I have to do. As far as work goes, if you’re not faking it a little you’re probably not going to move up very much.

    Comment by Mike | July 29, 2013

  3. I don’t think it’s wrong to hide our worst traits and I don’t think it’s being phony if people see the best in you. What is phony is trying to sell people on it yourself so you can take advantage of them in some way.

    Comment by D.M. | July 29, 2013

  4. I’ve been wondering where you were. I must admit I don’t like poetry, but I like this because it makes sense to me. Wish you would come to the picnic this year.

    Comment by DPD73 | July 29, 2013

  5. Dear Ms. Rowe, you might go for awhile without writing, but when you do you hit at gut level. Heck yes, I sometimes feel like everything I do is a big show. I’ve been known to mentally applaud myself. But don’t tell me you feel that way too, because I don’t want to believe you’re not perfect. 🙂

    Comment by smart aleck | July 30, 2013

  6. This is a very true article. I think most of my coworkers are living lies all the time. If they would be honest and not so fake they would be more happy. I am the only honest one and yet I am told I am hard to get along with and not liked. But I am at least happy with myself and know I am truthful when they are not!

    Comment by Honesty | August 12, 2013

  7. I had never read that poem by Walt Whitman and now I’m going to read more. ….I don’t know if I feel phony but I do know that when I go home and change clothes I start to feel more like the real me. I get very tired of all of it at work sometimes. And you know how chirpy and happy I usually am!

    Comment by P.A.H. | August 27, 2013

  8. This pretty much stopped me in my tracks. I was paid a wonderful compliment last week and I thought it was so undeserved I was almost rude about it! I wonder if I will ever be genuinely happy with myself. Working on it!

    Comment by Terry K. | May 26, 2015

  9. I think most of us do have to take a good attitude at work sometimes. I’d be terrified of the co worker that really was always UP! While I know we all love being around positive people I think there can be too much of a good thing sometimes. Overly happy, excited people can be draining too. I don’t like feeling like I need to smile like the joker in order to fit in at work.

    Comment by 2insane4work | September 8, 2015

Leave a comment