Fighting the “Impostor Syndrome”
I’m not rich or famous, but I have experienced some levels of success. I have some experience, and I think I have a good idea of what I’m supposed to do with my life. I think most of the people I encounter on a regular basis think I’ve got my act together and am on a pretty good trajectory.
But there’s a different story on the inside.
There’s a stereotype in our world today that only women struggle with comparing themselves to others. It’s well documented and often discussed that many girls feel inadequate with their appearance or in their role as mothers or (from my understanding) just about anything else.
Ladies, want to know a little secret?
You’re not alone.
Guys may not be as willing to admit it or talk about it, but we are horrible victims of the comparison trap, too. In all of my various roles in life, I regularly find myself questioning if I have what it takes, especially when I see the success of others.
People think I’m a good writer, but they don’t know how many times I’ve been rejected by publishers. People think I’m a good designer, but they don’t know how often I copy other people’s work. People think I’m a good husband, but they don’t see all the times I snap and say hurtful things to my wife. People think I’m a good Christian, but they don’t see the (many) days I don’t have the discipline to keep up with my Bible reading.
With all of those examples (and several more), I really resonate with what has been called the “impostor syndrome.”
When I’m honest with myself, I fear that someday I’ll be found out — that people will discover I’m not as good as they think I am. Sometimes any success I’ve had and the image I project feels like a fraud. It’s not that I’m lying or trying to deceive others, but many people seem to think I’m a lot better at life than I think I really am.
I fight these feelings and these fears nearly every day, but here’s another thing I’m discovering:
Everyone feels this way.
Studies estimate that about 70 percent of people struggle with impostor syndrome. The same study found that the other 30 percent were lying (… just kidding). In an interview with NPR, Tom Hanks admitted he sometimes struggles with self-doubt.
No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, “How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?”
This is Tom Hanks. He has been in more than 70 movies and TV shows. He’s won Academy Awards (plural). He played Woody and Walt Disney and Chuck Noland and characters from a million movies, including movies with Meg Ryan and the creepy conductor from “The Polar Express.” He’s arguably one of the most popular and most successful actors ever, and yet even he thinks he’s an impostor and not really as talented as people think he is.
If you feel like an impostor, you’re in good company.
If you think about it, life keeps changing. No matter what job you have or what you’re studying in school or what age your kids are, life is not stagnant — you will be introduced to new challenges just about every day.
Whether it’s a new product launch or a new team member or a new class or a new stage of parenting, no day is exactly like the previous one. We all encounter new challenges, and we all have to discover new ways to succeed. There are days when you will have to do things you’ve never done before. You’ll be asked to try something you’re not good at. People will say no and sometimes you will fail.
On those days, you’re not an impostor; you’re a human trying to navigate through an ever-changing world. And that’s OK. When I find myself fighting my inner-impostor, here’s what I try to do:
First, remember Satan is real and he is a very good liar. He knows your areas of weakness, and he wants you to fail. His main goal is to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10). If he can make you believe you’re not good enough, you’ve given him a gaping hole to come in and wreak havoc on your life.
Listen to these words about the devil from the book of John:
[He] does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)
He is the father of lies. Other translations of this passage say lies are his “native language.”
When you feel self-doubt or wonder if you’re just an impostor, remember where those thoughts come from. Stay humble and flee from pride, but remember that you are good enough — you’re made in God’s image and because of Christ’s sacrifice, you can stand before God clean.
God handcrafted you for the life you’re living. I believe He orchestrates our days and leads us to the roles we have. Your life isn’t an accident. You’re not in your job or your family by accident. God put you there and asks that you simply do your best with the tasks you’re given.
If you do that, you’re not an impostor — you’re an obedient child of God. You are loved, you are worthwhile and you are good enough.
It’s OK and very normal to feel like an impostor (just ask Tom Hanks). Don’t allow yourself to stay there. Stay humble, and never try to deceive others about how good or talented you are. Be honest, work hard and remember who you are.
Who are you? You’re not an impostor; you’re a child of God, and that makes you good enough.
About the Author
Matt Ehresman works as the creative media director at First MB Church in Wichita, Kan. He loves using video, images, words and sounds to help people think about things that matter. He is a graduate of Sterling College and Regent University and an expert on all things Mountain Dew and superheroes. He is the proud husband of Tillie and occasionally frustrated owner of Jarvis (their mini Aussie).