Did you know that Albert Einstein was a total fake? I don’t mean any disrespect, he was a fake, if you asked him. Albert Einstein called himself an “involuntary swindler.” Successful people often have feelings that tell them they don’t deserve their success. It’s commonly known as “Impostor Syndrome” and it explains a lot of our bad behavior. We don’t feel worthy, and we have this nagging feeling that we might be faking it, swindling the whole world.
I once worked in a university, and one of our senior managers told us she had Impostor Syndrome. I didn’t understand, but I did think she was too much of a self promoter. At her level of senior management, everyone had a doctorate in something, and they seemed to live by boasting.
I was one of the worker bees; my job was to make my boss look good, and not to promote myself. I once asked what it would take for me to become a tenured professor. I still remember the disdainful response, “We only hire from the outside.” The faculty only wanted important-looking people from somewhere else.
When I understood which way that wind was blowing, I went back to my cubicle and continued to earn my paycheque. That tenure-track door was closed to me. I did make one promotion mistake, and a friend of mine did the same thing in another faculty. We both snagged window offices for ourselves. Those coveted spaces were only for dignified senior professors, and working-class support staff could not go there. It was an unwritten rule. In about two years, both of us lost our jobs, or left our jobs for some reason, and moved on.
Now I understand; the environment promoted fakery and swindling. My senior manager was a small fish swimming with the sharks, and she wanted to survive and thrive. I mostly wanted to survive; my best option was to do my work diligently and earn a living, and to let others take the credit.
I once reported to my director about some project work, and the director took my notes and called it his research. He traveled around the world presenting his “findings” but he couldn’t answer the tough questions at conferences. I remember getting desperate emails from Finland or somewhere, asking me to give him detailed explanations that he could use.
Professional success requires some boasting and self promotion, and this easily becomes exaggerated. We live in a world where it pays to be an imposter, and that idea generates imposter syndrome. We easily feel like someone outside looking in, and we might learn that fakery pays. We can buy into the lie.
As a Christian, I have found hyper-spiritual self promoters, blowhards, in every church. And near them, the rest of us feel unworthy and inadequate. Impostor Syndrome is too common among Christians.
Jesus had the experience. That humble carpenter from a small town in the north was angry about the boasting fakery in the temple in Jerusalem. He was so bothered by the impostors, that He made a whip and cleared the place.
Imposter Syndrome is a psychological disorder, and psychologists can offer help, or it’s a spiritual problem, and we need correction from God.
- Step One: Do you feel chronically inadequate and undeserving? Are you like a child operating among adults?
- Step Two: Did you take it to the next level? Are you becoming one of the fakers? Do you believe the lie that you can hide your inferior feelings with boasting and self-promotion?
God has good news.
We can turn away from feeling lowly and unworthy, and we can turn off the vain boasting. We can be free from this curse. Jesus told us:
When I was a boy, I heard those words, but I didn’t know what I needed to be free from. I am starting to get it now. We can be liberated from the imposter in us, and we can be adopted into a new family.
When we understand Imposter Syndrome, we can understand the Bible much better. For example, I am beginning to understand this picture: