It’s a widespread plague . . . Imposter Syndrome. The more I’ve talked with others, the more I’ve noticed the same thread of worry and struggle that I’ve identified in my own heart. Before I continue, how am I defining “Imposter Syndrome”? It’s the feeling that you’ve snuck in the back door of a party you weren’t invited to, causing you to live with an uncomfortable sensation that at any moment you’ll be discovered and kicked back outside. Those experiencing Imposter Syndrome operate under a blanket of anxiety that the work they’ve done in the past and the work they’re attempting in the future is subpar and ineffective.
I’ve wrestled with this feeling myself and have only found success combating it when I realized that this struggle is nothing new. In fact, it’s quite literally as old as Moses!
In Exodus chapters 3–4, God speaks to Moses from the burning bush and instructs him to return to Egypt—the land from which he’d fled forty years earlier—and speak to Pharaoh. God had seen His people’s plight and had determined to rescue them . . . through Moses.
Quite understandably, Moses is perturbed and uneasy. In fact, he dialogues with God for around two chapters, essentially hemming and hawing even in the face of direct revelation. Before we’re too hard on him, though, his responses aren’t unlike our own. In fact, in Moses’ responses, I see two main fears that sum up what we often struggle with when we cave into Imposter Syndrome:
Fear #1: Who am I?
“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11)
God had just told Moses who He, the Lord, is, but Moses is most concerned about who he, Moses, is (or is not)! Likewise, we spend a lot of time worrying about ourselves and what we perceive to be our strengths and weaknesses when the bedrock isn’t us but who God has shown Himself to be. Imposter Syndrome turns our gaze inward. Like Moses, we self-analyze with a morbid introspection that leads to despair and doubt. As a result, we become immobilized and ineffective.
Fear #2: But they . . .
“But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice.” (Exodus 4:1)
God has already told Moses that He will perform many wonders through him, but Moses turns from looking inward to looking outward toward his fellow Israelites. His argument has morphed from “But I can’t” to “But they won’t.” Even though God has promised miracles, Moses isn’t sure it will be enough. Imposter Syndrome turns our gaze outward. We find ourselves worried over others’ reactions. Instead of serving others, we fret over what they’ll think of us and our work. As a result, we become timid and people-pleasing.
God responds to Moses with His own identity and ability and gives Moses authority to lead because of who He, the Lord, is. He anchors Moses’ calling in His own character, in turn, calling and equipping His servant.
The enemy of our souls would love to distract us from the work of the Kingdom, and I believe Imposter Syndrome is one of the tactics he uses to immobilize the spread of God’s Word. As His children, we know that we are not given a spirit of fear but of “power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7), and we know that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). So what’s the solution to all our fear-riddled fumblings?
Get rid of ME (Moses Excuses) and hold onto I AM.
Imposter Syndrome would have us look inward to ourselves for reassurance and, when we find none, collapsing in a heap of “I can’ts.” Imposter Syndrome would have us look outward to others for validation and, when we don’t get it, scuttling backwards mumbling “They won’t.” God calls us to stop fretting and look upward. When we refocus on the God who equips the called, suddenly our excuses fall woefully short.
I didn’t realize how much I struggled with Imposter Syndrome until God began to free me from it. I began to see my Imposter Syndrome as a false humility and an excuse to stay with the familiar rather than step out in bold faith. Here’s the clincher: freedom and confidence is found, not by looking inward or outward, but by looking upward to the God whose name is I AM WHO I AM. He gives His servants a purpose that can only be fulfilled when we stop with the excuses and lay ahold of Him. Knowing this and knowing Him, I am empowered and free to do whatever it is He asks of me.