There are many things I’ve done in my life that I said I would never do. Topping my list of ‘most embarrassing U-turns’ is performing in amateur musical theatre.
If getting over my own pride wasn’t challenging enough, being on stage really put me in my place. Perhaps it was the struggle of learning my lines for the pacey back-and-forth of Spamalot. Maybe it was being around people who seem so effortlessly comfortable on stage. My wife being one of those people didn’t help.
Whatever the reason, my foray into musical theatre quickly stirred up the oh-so-familiar fear that someone will find out I’m not meant to be here.
That feeling is known as ‘imposter syndrome’ – defined by the School of Life Dictionary as ‘the crippling thought that people like us could not possibly triumph given what we know of ourselves: how reliably stupid, anxious, gauche, crude, vulgar and dull we really are’. Oof.
Imposter syndrome rears its head at the most unhelpful times: on stage, at parties, in new jobs, after promotions. It’s particularly common among young adults in their first decade of work – even, and perhaps especially, in those stepping into their first management and team leadership roles. Lingering questions feed our insecurities: ‘What if I haven’t got what it takes? What if my being here is a mistake? What if someone finds me out?’
Imposter syndrome’s power comes from amplifying a note of truth to a distorted and deafening level. Chances are I’m not the total failure-in-waiting that imposter syndrome tells me I am. But stare long enough into the mirror and I come to a scary realisation: I’m not the person I want others to think I am.
My successes aren’t just my own. Significant opportunities that have come my way weren’t of my own making. I do get things wrong, pretty often. I want to fit in, but I’m not always sure if I really do. There’s a big gap between the person I wish I was, and the person I know myself to be.
An eternal perspective
This realisation needn’t come as a surprise to those of us who identify as Christians: life outside the Garden feels insecure. We all have a hardwired disposition to dwell on the evidence that we’re ‘stupid, anxious, gauche, crude, vulgar and dull’.
But the Christian story doesn’t only tell us why we feel this way. It tells us what difference the love of God makes.
Paul explains it in Ephesians 2:8-10:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
There are at least three things to notice here. First, you exist because God created you (v10). And when God creates, he doesn’t do so half-heartedly: we are his ‘handiwork,’ made fearfully and wonderfully. In love, he brought you to life. That means you have a God-given right to be here.
Second, God saves us when we can’t save ourselves (v8-9). All sufferers of imposter syndrome know how difficult it is to believe our own propaganda. We aren’t always the people we try to convince others we are. But that doesn’t put God off. He reaches out to us first, inviting us to know him and receive his love through grace and faith.
Third, God has prepared good works for us to do, whether we feel like we’re up to it or not (v10). These ‘good works’ don’t have to be epic, world-changing projects. They include the areas Paul details next: expressing God’s love in our relationships, nurturing children, praying, and working as if we’re serving the Lord whatever our role: butchers, bakers, first-time managers, or candlestick makers.
God’s antidote to imposter syndrome
Our work is from God, for us – whether we feel worthy of it or not. He gives us our roles, and he works alongside us in them. So, like the headteacher who sat back to catch her breath after a deeply stressful day that began with a broken boiler and ended with a pupil’s expulsion, we can say, ‘wow – God trusted me with all that.’
Created. Saved. To do good work. This is God’s antidote to imposter syndrome.
It means that when we show up to work, we can show up with confidence in the gifts, abilities, and skills God has uniquely created in each of us. We find our footing in his saving affection for us, not the affection of our colleagues that we might try to earn. And we’re empowered by his Spirit to make good work, because we trust that what we’ll do today matters – carefully trimming that lawn, presenting that plate with a smile, crafting every word in that difficult email.
In this work we take satisfaction. Through it, we bless others. By it, we worship God himself.
LICC’s Emerging Leaders course is built on these convictions. Are you stepping into management, leadership and new responsibility at work? Do you want to be part of a cohort of young professionals, simultaneously pressing into their faith and their workplace leadership? Do you want to put your imposter syndrome to rest?