An impostor is someone who pretends to be someone they are not. Impostor syndrome then is someone who intentionally and consistently presents an image to other people that does not reflect who they are or what they think. It can take many forms.
- In classrooms, it is a person who does not want to appear incompetent or incorrect. Therefore, that person presents an image of intelligence or competency by answering every question even though internally he/she feels like a failure, believing that at any moment this façade will be exposed.
- In churches, it is a person who proclaims spiritual maturity even though his/her marriage is falling apart; or someone in leadership who is consumed with a habitual sin. In other cases, the person is overcommitted to ministry even though he/she is apathetic towards God. The desire to appear spiritual and “have it together” drives his/her need to be an impostor.
- In leadership, it is not uncommon for someone to “fake it until they make it.” Faced with leadership expectations and organizational pressures, a manager struts with confidence and power despite internally crumbling from the weight of responsibility. To validate and preserve his/her position, the person conceals insecurities or rationalizes if not blames failures on others.
Being an impostor is hard work with very little reward. You spend a ton of effort to keep up a front while inside your soul grows drier, darker, and more empty. You exude happiness and joy while you stare in the mirror with self-hate and glare at a neighbor with jealousy and judgment. You display vibrancy and charisma while your soul is surviving the day, longing for the evening when you can take off the mask.
It is no wonder that many people implode under the pressure of maintaining an image. Leaders descend into moral failure as a means of escaping their own propped up expectations. Christians walk away from the church because the “spiritual game” is simply too hard to keep playing. And, when this happens, everyone is in shock as to how it happened.
I have found myself fostering an impostor syndrome on numerous occasions. I don’t want someone to think less of me so I present an image. I like the notion of having it all together so I craft my words and responses to encourage it. I play the game because in some ways the game feels good, at least temporarily.
Yet, in the end the disconnect is not worth it. Nor is it what God desires for us.
Christ came to give us the abundant life. An abundant life made possible because we are redeemed through the cross. In that moment, we became children of God – not perfect but forgiven. God calls us to live out of our identity as sons and daughters of the King. We are broken yet with grace. We are stumbling yet with the offer of second and third chances. We are “in process” of transformation yet not having arrived. There is no shame in who we are in Christ. Should we strive for holiness? Absolutely. But we should not pretend to be holy when we are not. Therefore, we should put to death the desire to pretend otherwise. God doesn’t demand it of us; why should we.