Have you ever been sat in a meeting, where you've felt like the smartest person in the room? No, it's never happened to me, either. But I wonder if, like me, the reverse has been true? That you've been in the midst of some sort of work or social situation, and felt like either the least qualified, least valuable or least intelligent person there?
Now of course, it's possible that in certain situations this has actually been true. If I walked through the wrong door and stumbled into the midst of a gathering of astrophysicists, I probably would be the least smart person in the room. But largely speaking when we get this feeling, it's our insecurity talking, rather than reality.
Quite often, what's really happening here is a sense that deep down there's a yawning mismatch between the version of ourselves that we project, and the worst, warts-and-all version that we don't let anyone see. That all our achievements have really been due to good fortune rather than ability; that we're really a bit of fraud. It's the secret belief that if people really knew us, they probably wouldn't want to. Psychologists call this 'Imposter Syndrome.'
Although for the last 40 years it has been diagnosed as a specific psychological condition, my hunch is that the advent of social media has turned millions upon millions of us into sufferers to a greater or lesser extent. Social networks encourage us to project an enhanced and slightly imagined version of ourselves, which then feeds our sense of insecurity that others will somehow 'find us out'. In a world where people take 10 versions of a selfie in order to finally post one they're happy with on Instagram, it's not hard to see why we might all feel a bit fraudulent.
This phenomenon is especially prevalent in those who have positions of leadership and responsibility over others. The perceived pressure of leading others, fears about our own ability and hopefully a helpful dose of humility combine to feed the worry that we're always just one moment away from being uncovered as a total fraud – someone who is ill-equipped for the task they've been given.
I've constantly been surprised at the amazing leaders, both inside the church and beyond it, who struggle with some form of this phenomenon. Brilliant writers, genius artists; speakers who can get a whole room hanging on their every word: all of them occasionally consumed with the belief that they're misleading everyone, that they're not half as good as everyone seems to think. And to be completely honest, I also often find myself wondering why on earth I've been entrusted with a microphone, or a magazine column, or a youth group meeting. I imagine every single leader on earth feels like an imposter, now and again.
It's not just about leadership however. We can also feel like imposters in our jobs, or our relationships, or even our friendship groups. We call all worry, deep down, that we're much weaker than anyone really knows – and that some time soon, they're going to find out.
If any of that resonates with you, then I think the Bible has some really helpful advice. In 2 Corinthians 12, the great Apostle Paul – perhaps the finest Christian communicator ever who didn't happen to be part of the Holy Trinity – reveals that he too struggles with a variant of imposter syndrome. He says, in verse 5, that the only thing he can really boast about is his weaknesses. And in verse 7, he reveals that he has a deep personal struggle, an unspecified 'thorn in my flesh' that holds him back. He's no hero, and he knows it. Yet what he says next is deep wisdom, and profoundly helpful to all of us who fear we're not 'strong' enough:
'He [the Lord] said to me: "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness."'
The truth is that we are weak, and riddled with flaws, and even Paul knew that about himself. But the God who lived within him, and who lives now within us by his Spirit is anything but. So whether we're seeking to lead a church, or parent a child well, or do a job well, or give great advice, our weakness is not all that we bring to the table. The power of God perfects us, equips us, and gives us strength even when we feel woefully weak.
There's an expression in evangelical circles that God doesn't choose the equipped, but equips the chosen. Sure, it's a little saccharine, but there's also some great truth in it. So when we feel the pangs of imposter syndrome, perhaps we don't have to feel anxious that we might get 'found out'. Perhaps instead we should simply feel inspired to trust God more: the God whose grace is sufficient for us even when we feel like a fraud.