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My head is always filled with thoughts that I’m just not good enough. How can I overcome this?
At one time or another, to one degree or another, pretty much all of us have suffered from Impostor Syndrome. Impostor Syndrome is the nagging fear that we are but wearing a mask of competence to cover up our ineptitude. Thus, we walk into school — or church or work or the sports field or the dating scene or whatever — carrying the heavy anxiety that everyone else is smarter and more confident and more faithful and better looking and more skilled than we are. We look around at the terrifyingly competent group of people surrounding us and our inner monologue becomes nervous and sometimes even frantic:
How long will it take them to notice that I am totally unqualified to be an adult, a husband, a parent, a Christian, a friend, a writer? How long will it take them to notice that I’m just not good enough? How long will it take them to expose my mask for the sham that it is?
I’m not sure that Impostor Syndrome can entirely be cured — the number of folks who are years into successful vocations and yet who insist that their knowledge is weak and their skills are shaky suggests to me that it may be chronic condition — but it can be managed. Here’s how.
First, NC, name your impostorship out loud. Name your sense of being not good enough in front of your friends and in front of God. Shine a light on it. My experience is that the monsters who hide under your bed hate being in the light. They hate it when you look right at them. And, even more, they hate it when you laugh at them. So, tell the people whom you trust about those monsters. And be open to the possibility that those awful creatures who whisper that you aren’t good enough might be just a little ridiculous. Looking at them and laughing at them might not make them go away. But it will make them small.
Second, recognize that everyone has their own monsters under their own beds. You may have noticed that a lot of people come back from their high school reunions both flabbergasted and relieved to learn that most of their classmates (including some of the really cool ones) used to feel just as lost and awkward and goofy as they did. So know, NC, you aren’t alone in feeling off balance and inadequate. Know that you are struggling with one of the things that you have to struggle with in order to be a human being.
Finally, decide to tell a new story about yourself. There was an amazing feature on NPR a couple of months back about what researchers call “story editing.” Story editing involves taking a limiting narrative about yourself and replacing it with something unlimited. The feature gave the example of researchers who encouraged first-year university students to replace stories such as “I’m not good at math” and “I have trouble making friends” with a new story that goes something like this:
“Everybody fails at first.”
When researchers checked back with students who took on the story “everybody fails at first” three years later, they found that they were doing better in school, that they had more friends and, extraordinarily enough, that they were healthier. Our positive stories, much like our negative ones, shape our lives. I wonder, NC, if “everybody fails at first” might be a good and powerful and freeing story for you?
There are two famous passages in scripture in which God calls people who worry that they just aren’t good enough. God calls Moses even though Moses insists that he doesn’t speak well enough to lead the Israelites. And God calls Jeremiah even though Jeremiah thinks that he is too young to be a prophet. Both Moses and Jeremiah argue with God, both of them try to insist on their incompetence, both of them suggest that they would be impostors as leaders, both of them wonder if God might be making a mistake in calling them. But God replies: Actually, I don’t make all that many mistakes. Actually, I made you on purpose just the way that you are. Actually, you are already good enough and loved enough and ready enough to do what I am asking of you.
You know what, NC? God is saying the very same thing to you. You may not be called to lead a people out of bondage or to be a prophet. But God is inviting you do something wondrous and beautiful with the glorious gift that is your life. And, more than that, God believes that you are ready to do that work right now
So, even though the monsters under your bed will tell you that you are an impostor, that you just aren’t good enough; even though you will probably fail at first; even though your hands may shake: go. Go forth and say “yes” to possibility. Go forth to be the person whom God has called you to be.
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