Do you have imposter syndrome? It is fascinating how many people admit to this.
A growing body of research has been done round the persistent, unvoiced fear of being exposed as a fraud. And it is a mistake to think only insecure people feel this way. Many highly successful figures struggle with the sense that someone else should be in their place; that a mistake has been made along the way and it is only a matter of time before they are found out. Days and sleepless nights are spent imagining the moment of exposure, like a criminal waiting to be caught.
The Clance scale, named after its creator, identifies several dimensions to the phenomenon, including the need to be the best; a fear of failure; a denial of ability and the discounting of praise. Current culture is competitive, creating a landscape of winners and losers, which suggests imposter syndrome may be growing.
In a climate where constant comparison to others is being made, we soon come across people who are more talented than we are. Or we simply encounter over-confident types who seem so certain of their ability and have no shame around self-promotion.
Though certain personality types are especially prone to imposter syndrome, most of us can identify with aspects of it. On one level, it is quite endearing. Far preferable, we think, to those alpha types who thing they are great at everything even when they are not.
People of faith may be especially susceptible to it because doing any kind of work for God can leave you thinking you are simply not good enough for the role. We measure ourselves by the standards of perfection that God sets – be holy, as I am holy – and forever feel we are falling short. Knowing we are called to humility – the most elusive grace of all – we can be tempted to deny the gifting God has given us and deflect any praise offered by others; a symptom of imposter syndrome.
The Bible is a mixed bag of people who wanted to pull the covers over them when God came knocking at the door and others who couldn’t wait to show off their destiny. Moses, Gideon, Saul and Jeremiah all felt disqualified from role. Moses because he was a poor communicator. Gideon because he was – let’s name it – a bit of a coward. Saul because he had such low self-esteem and was merely one of the lads. Jeremiah because he was young and sensitive. On the other side lies Joseph, who was bragging about his ascendency before teenage acne had gone. And, maybe, Isaiah who, when caught up into heaven, was still quick to see himself as God’s man for the job. Then there is a whole different category, in which Paul the Apostle is foremost, where everyone else thinks you’re an imposter even when you don’t.
It is good not to be too well adjusted to the role God has given us, because this can lead to complacency when the task begins to feel easy and comfortable. When our role makes us feel like a square peg in a round hole, it is probably a good sign we are where God wants us, because we are more alert to him in our edginess.
But there are risks if this makes us feel like an imposter. If we become self-aware, hesitant and doubting because we don’t feel right in role, we can begin to quench the waters of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing noble in always playing ourselves down, because others may be relying on us in ways we don’t appreciate. And if we make out our gifting is nothing to write home about, we may discourage others who think they are less gifted than us in the first place.
The New Testament speaks of being more than a conqueror in Christ. And the world needs this witness. But in conquering, we cannot lay waste to the people around us, bullying and bending them to our will. It is a different kind of conquering we find in Christ. One that sets the captives free and helps to build a kingdom that is to come. Even when we feel like a fraud.
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