Have you ever felt like you don’t belong? More specifically, have you ever wondered if you were included, accepted, or invited, by mistake? Have you worried that the school admitted you by accident, or your boss overestimated your abilities, or that your church thinks you’re a better Christian than you actually are?
One of my earliest memories of this particular fear was during my freshman year of college. It was the first week of school, and I sat in an auditorium with my classmates, while the university president described the amazing accomplishments of our incoming class. There were team captains, class presidents, community organizers, valedictorians, and even a girl who swam the English Channel. Yes, The English Channel.
I, on the other hand, hadn’t done any of that stuff. I will never forget turning to the student next to me and whispering, “Uh, WHAT?” and then silently panicking, “How did I get into this school?”
This anxiety—that you don’t belong, that you’re not good enough, that somehow you tricked the admissions office, your employer, or your spouse, into choosing you, and that sooner or later they’re going to figure it out. This fear has a name. It’s called The Imposter Syndrome. And it’s very common.
It’s also very powerful.
Imposter syndrome is the reason we quit early, before we have the chance to disappoint. Imposter syndrome is the reason we never step fully into our call, because we feel like a fraud. And imposter syndrome is what keeps us from being vulnerable to others, because we’re too afraid of being found out.
Imposter syndrome is the silent killer of one’s calling. It hides in the shadows of our insecurities, shaming us with lies about our inadequacy. Most of us struggle with it at one time or another, totally unaware that the classmate right next to us, the co-worker, pastor, mother, or wife—might feel exactly the same way we do.
Imposter syndrome is not based on truth, which is one of the reasons we should resist it; but that’s not the only reason. In Luke 5, Jesus reveals his identity to Peter by filling his nets with fish. Peter had toiled all night long with nothing to show for it, until suddenly his nets were bursting.
When Peter witnessed this miracle, his eyes were opened. He fell on his knees and plead, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” (v. 8)
In that moment, Peter felt exposed, ashamed and unworthy. He knew the many, many ways he fell short, and his response was to hide.
But here’s what’s interesting. Jesus doesn’t respond with encouragement. There’s no, “Oh honey, you are perfect just the way you are!” or “You don’t have to feel ashamed around me! I’m Jesus!”
No, Jesus doesn’t coddle Peter. In fact, he hardly acknowledges Peter’s fears at all before shifting the focus entirely. Instead Jesus replies,
“’Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!’ And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.” (v. 10-11)
These words cut to the heart of imposter syndrome and its fallout. The core problem isn’t that you feel bad about yourself. The core problem is this:
Imposter syndrome is a distraction from action.
Imposter syndrome stalls and disables you. Fear and inadequacy are like weights around your ankles that prevent you from running full speed. Imposter syndrome does this by keeping your eyes fixed on your inadequacy. As long as you’re preoccupied with your inability, rather than God’s ability, you will live a life of fearful restraint and small goals. You will never plunge deep into the waters of faith.
In other words, imposter syndrome stands between you and following God’s call. It convinces you that you’re not good enough, or able enough, to which Luke 5 reminds us, “It was never about you in the first place.”
How, then, do we disarm the power of Imposter Syndrome? I think 2 Corinthians 10:5 has one answer:
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
When imposter syndrome takes hold of you, you take hold of it. Make it obedient to Christ, who died on the cross to justify your belonging. By the blood of Christ, you belong—you belong in the church, you belong in your calling, and you belong anywhere else on this planet that God wants you to be. So don’t look at the people around you, don’t look at your shortcomings, and don’t even look at yourself. Just look at Jesus, and move.