February 29, 2020 • Life for Leaders
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
Psalm 139:13-14 (NIV)
I sat outside the room filled with cameras, waiting for my turn to go under the bright lights. I couldn’t bear to read through my notes even one more time. I had been through my talking points so often over the past 24 hours that I feared the words might lose all their sense of meaning. There was really nothing left to do but stare at the clock and count down the seconds to the moment when the doors would open and I would hear them call my name and say, “Are you ready for your interview?”
Everything in my external appearance screamed, “I know what I’m talking about! Listen to me!” In the weeks prior to this event, I had purchased what I imagined to be the uniform of an up-and-coming female leader. Under my dark blue blazer, I wore a “power color” pink blouse. My dark wash jeans were the right brand of hipness for the influential millennial, and they had been more expensive than I care to recount.
On the inside, however, everything screamed, “Imposter! Don’t let them know how scared you really are!” The anxieties were not just about going in front of the cameras at this big cool-person-conference. My anxieties extended to my wholesale worth. “You’re not really a leader,” something in my brain kept repeating. “You’re just a big faker. Nobody has any reason to listen to you.”
Impostor syndrome is the feeling that you don’t deserve the authority you’ve been given. It affects leaders of all ages at all levels of success. The condition may be chronic – something you struggle with every day. Or it could be a passing torment – an anxiety that overtakes you the moment you go on stage, right at the moment you most need to feel confident.
While it’s a common enough experience, impostor syndrome saps away our effectiveness and poisons our overall spiritual health.
What I needed while waiting outside the room with the cameras was a reminder of my identity. Not my self-perception as dictated by my fears or professional jealousies – I needed a real reminder of my identity as laid out by God.
“I am fearfully and wonderfully made” says Psalm 139. “Your works are wonderful.”
Psalm 139 can be a powerful turn-around in these moments of impostor syndrome. My friend Erin Slone says she repeated this psalm often during a period of intense anxiety in her professional career. “Psalm 139 was my mantra for a couple of months,” Erin told me during an interview on the Making It Work podcast. “The type A person in me would not accept that God didn’t make any mistakes with me, that I am who I am because he made me this way and I need to love that person and accept that person.”
Through repetition, Psalm 139 changed the way Erin saw herself: “After a while I was like, ‘Wait a second, if your works are wonderful, and you made me, then that means I’m wonderful too.’”
If God’s other wonderful creations can kick the feeling of imposter syndrome, then I have hope too. That’s what I’m going to meditate on the next time I face a room full of cameras. Well, that and not spending so much money on my jeans.
Listen to the Making it Work interview with Erin Slone on impostor syndrome.
Something to Think About:
Was there a time in your life when you felt like you didn’t fit in, like you weren’t up to the task, or like other people knew more than you? The truth is: most people feel like this at one time or another, and it doesn’t mean those feelings are true. Chances are you are up to the task, you do know as much as you needed to know, and everyone else is as self-conscious as you are.
Something to Do:
When you start to doubt yourself, interrogate your reasoning. “Who says I’m not good enough for this?” Ask God to show you His view of your abilities. Repeat the words: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful.”
God, thank you that all your works are wonderful, including me. May I do good work today, in Jesus’ name. Amen.