IMPOSTER!

I remember when I first was invited to sit at the “Vice President” table in Wycliffe USA. The invitation came first as one to be in the position as the “interim” VP. That meant that the front and back doors were left wide open for my coming and going while a “real” VP could be found. When I was asked to be that “real” VP a number of months later, I about choked on my soup.

I’m grateful for a conversation I had around that time with a colleague in a similar role in SIL International and a similar love for the television series WEST WING. Carol had recently seen an interview or read an article about the “real” White House staff and the common cycles they go through when they start working in that place of power and influence — a cycle that includes a season of feeling like an imposter who will eventually be found out and removed.

At the time I was feeling exactly that — thinking that it was a fun ride, but would only last as long as it took for someone to realize that I wasn’t in the right seat on the bus. Maybe not even on the right bus.

Because I was not in that role for a very long time before being asked to scoot my chair up to the Executive Team table, I barely got comfortable before starting the cycle all over again.

I’ve been in this current role for more than four years. There are certainly things about it that are more comfortable than they were in the beginning — I’ve grown in my understanding of systems, I have clarity around expectations, and I’m more equipped today than I was before. I’ve added skills and experience.

So, when I logged onto iGoogle at lunch time today and saw a link to a new article on Her.meneutics (n.) the Christianity Today blog for women titled “Women with the Self-Doubt Syndrome” — I clicked through to the article. Quickly. Lynn Cohick’s sub-headline took my breath away. “Some high-achieving women have the ‘impostor syndrome’ — the ingrained sense that they don’t belong at the table of influence.”

I’m resisting the urge to self-diagnose — fully recognizing that I generally crash after any significant event where I take leadership. I am most likely to crash if I perceive that event to be generally successful. The crash is often perpetuated by the appropriate constructive criticism that follows and includes self-chastizement for not having thicker skin but is also perpetuated by affirmation.  All of that recognized, I still must admit that I may be a junior member of this club.

Even in saying that I am compelled to tell you that I’m not a high-achieving woman so I can’t really have this syndrome.

I found a website where Valerie Young offers a workshop to help women with the Imposter Syndrome overcome this malady — a workshop titled How to Feel As Bright and Capable As Everyone Seems to Think You Are (a title which, I must admit, is rather off-putting to me — I really don’t think that the chief end of woman is to feel good about herself). I mention it because the site includes the Imposter Syndrome Quiz and indicates that I can share this quiz as long as I give attribution to Valerie Young. This quiz is a series of eight YES/NO questions. See how you do:

  • Do you secretly worry that others will find out that you’re not as bright and capable as they think you are?
  • Do you sometimes shy away from challenges because of nagging self-doubt?
  • Do you tend to chalk your accomplishments up to being a “fluke,” “no big deal” or the fact that people just “like” you?
  • Do you hate making a mistake, being less than fully prepared or not doing things perfectly?
  • Do you tend to feel crushed by even constructive criticism, seeing it as evidence of your “ineptness?”
  • When you do succeed, do you think, “Phew, I fooled ’em this time but I may not be so lucky next time.”
  • Do you believe that other people (students, colleagues, competitors) are smarter and more capable than you are?
  • Do you live in fear of being found out, discovered, unmasked?

So, what do you think about this idea that high achieving women are more likely to be plagued by self-doubt than self-pride?  I’m pretty sure that any time we define ourselves according to a plumb line other than the one given to use by our creator, we are wrong. Still, what do we have to learn from all this?

 

———————-

For those of you who worry about such things: I’m fine. This is not the quiet cry for help preceeding a melt down. This is me thinking aloud and seeking your thoughts. I’m not seeking your thoughts about me, by the way. I’m wondering how you engage with this idea personally. What does this “imposter syndrom” look like from your chair?

12 thoughts on “IMPOSTER!

  1. antlike says:

    “Fascinating!” (a favorite Spock one-liner from Star Trek) Part of that hits the nail on the head! Of course, YOU are not a high-achieving woman…oh, no…never!

    A constant view of God’s plumb line keeps us humble. It threw prophets on their faces in the sand! We know our failings all too well. Still, often we don’t get our faces up out of the sand and think of ourselves with an accurate appraisal. God gifts us and trains us to do what He asks of us. We should take pride in God’s power displayed through very imperfect vessels.

    Perhaps this explains why after we came home from our overseas linguistic assignment I began saying things like, “Wycliffe just lets me create children’s resources because no one else wants to do it…my husband has all the post-grad degrees….if they knew my training (or lack thereof), they’d never let me do this.” Somehow I knew these words didn’t ring true, but couldn’t put the “why” of it into word.

    When asked more than once to present training to children’s pastors in foreign countries over the past year, I have consistently asked myself, “Don’t they know that I’m nobody…what can I teach that merits them paying to sit in my workshops…isn’t there someone with a PhD in this subject they should ask instead?” I CAN see it from my chair, now that you explain it, Ruth. Thanks!

    No, our chief end is not to feel good about ourselves in a prideful way, but we do need to know that God uniquely gifts and trains each of us to do what He asks. Then we need to step up and do it with confidence in His empowerment, giving Him all the credit.

    Fascinating! Pondering further…

  2. Russ says:

    Well, I wonder if a view from a male chair is welcome in this conversation? I can tell you that the view from my chair looks very similar. In fact, who is that I see sitting in the chair of self-doubt and feeling like an imposter. Oh! It’s me! I suspect this can be a gender neutral position. I sure know I feel I run a distant third to SVP and SVP3!

  3. Ruth Hubbard says:

    Russ — Your view is always welcome. And I don’t think this is gender specific either, though at least one of the articles I read about this “syndrome” suggest its more common in females. But that’s one article.

    Dorothea — I think this experience is really common in an organization like ours where there are so many different ways to measure “good enough” as it relates to so many different roles. Maybe?

  4. andthereyouhaveit says:

    wow.

    thanks for that, the trancparency and the site reference. I’ve been looking for something specific for my reader and I think her.meneutics might just be it.

  5. Giazilla says:

    I believe this is applicable to many women throughout the spectrum of accomplishment. Having been a woman in a male dominated military career, and now a stay at home mother of three children, I find that I have the same “imposter syndrome” feelings as a mother as I did during my military career.

    When complimented on what a good mother I am, I am reticent to receive the compliment. Instead thinking to myself if they only knew that I let my kids watch too much tv, or that I don’t feed my kids the perfect diet, or that I yell too much. I believe many great mothers suffer from these same feelings.

    So, does this syndrome develop through accomplishment or is it how we subconsciously drive ourselves to greater achievement or mental illness? I think the jury’s still out on this one as my husband would argue for mental illness and I would argue for greater achievement!

    • Ruth Hubbard says:

      Fascinating, isn’t it?! One might think (logic) that you would feel like an imposter in one place because you, in fact, ARE an imposter — and that would be proven when you feel “at home” in another (pun fully intended). This isn’t about that.

  6. Annica Cook says:

    A Wise Woman

    Clarene had just been elected President of her local church’s women’s missionary organization. (She was not present at the meeting and therefore was elected!) She was young and plagued with those self-doubting thoughts, “Just wait until they find out I don’t know what I’m doing.”

    A few months into her term was Christmastime and the ladies were busily preparing boxes of homemade cookies to deliver to local missionaries and those home on furlough. Clarene was thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to deliver cookies to a missionary couple whom she so admired. She was very excited for the excuse to visit the woman at her home.

    Clarene arrived at the home and presented the cookies to the wife. Then she presented the missionary with a private offering from her husband and her. The missionary received the cookies from the organization, but refused the offering. Her reason was that she felt that something was not right between the two women, that there was a barrier. She even went so far as to say there was some sin in Clarene’s life that was hindering their relationship.

    Clarene felt devastated and ashamed. The woman she so admired had rejected her. But because Clarene respected the missionary, she promised to go home and examine her heart for any hidden sin.

    She did as promised and began the painful process of self-examination. Clarene recalled each interaction she had had with the missionary. There had been a day she dropped by and was surprised to find the husband of the missionary home with his wife. She quickly accomplished her purpose for the visit and excused herself so as not to take up their time together. She had felt like an intruder. On another occasion she had been concerned with making a good impression and was nervous.

    The more Clarene thought and prayed the more she realized at each encounter with the missionary she had felt self-conscious. God revealed to her that when she is self-conscious she cannot be God-conscious. If one’s attention is on oneself, it cannot be on God. Clarene concluded that anything that takes our attention off of God is sin. Therefore, self-consciousness is sin.

    After a few days Clarene returned to the missionary’s home and confessed her sin of self-consciousness. Clarene realized that what the missionary had picked up on was her own uneasiness which then made the missionary feel uncomfortable. Clarene asked the woman to forgiveness and once again presented the offering which the missionary accepted.

    Since then Clarene has lived in freedom and with power. She no longer is concerned with self, worrying about what others think, or with self-doubt. She strives to be filled with the Spirit at every moment. For over 75 years she has served God mightily knowing that it is in His strength that she does all things and not for her own glory, but His. Being God-conscious leaves no room for self-conscious behaviors such as self-doubt, because our service is not based on our own skills and abilities, but completely on Him.

    This was not an easy story to hear, nor an easy lesson to learn. I may never fully learn it. But I see the freedom in which Clarene lives and the incredible things she has been a part of during her lifetime. I pray God will help me to live and serve as she lives and serves and that I will be filled with more of Him and less of me than I was the day before.

    • Ruth Hubbard says:

      Annica — I see the power of this reality and agree that sin is at the root of all of our junk. Still, sometimes a story like this makes it seem ridiculously too easy to get over the junk. I know that God can do anything and often surprises us with the extension and exuberance of his grace. I also know that God often asks us to work through a process of reconciliation of who we are intended to be rather than confront us through a single experience of almost instant conversion after which we live holy ever after.

      • Annica Cook says:

        If only it were that easy! Sorry I presented Clarene’s experience in a way that overly simplified the issue. Though at the heart, the answer is simple–more of Him and less of me. It’s the living that simple truth that’s the hard part!

      • Ruth Hubbard says:

        No reason you should be sorry for sharing a powerful story. I just realized when I read it that the gaps between submission and transformation can me misunderstood. I totally agree that the bottom line in all of life is our relationship with God.

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