“Addressing the Imposter Complex”

Boy, do I get in the way of myself.  But when I step aside and think about God, things become a little clearer.

It’s the first week of school at an all girls’ school, and I see it all around me.  The nerves of new arrivals are fettered with fear; second-guessing who she is, the questioning what she should be, and what author Rachel Simmons calls “role overload” of adolescent girls.

“How do I look? Will I make the grade? Am I a good daughter? Where will I go to college? Am I living up to the potential my parents expect of me? How many APES should I take?” Repeat question number one and run through the others in any order necessary until she whips herself up into uncertainty and doesn’t know if she’s coming or going.

I believe this culture of success and achievement overloads boys much the same way and continues into adulthood leaving them on a virtual hamster wheel of uncertainty and confounding disappointment when they don’t live up to the standards that are created for them. There are many self-help books addressing this issue, as the perpetual bombardment of insecurity assaults us from media and society.

During first week of school meetings, I was introduced to the work of Rachel Simmons. Simmons, author of “Odd Girl Out” and her new book “Enough as She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond the Impossible Standards of Success to Live Happy, Healthy and Fulfilling Lives”.  Rachel is addressing the problem of self-esteem and achievement head on.  She calls out the idea of the “imposter complex”.

The imposter complex is when one thinks she has been fooling the world into believing she is something she is not. She believes she is going to be discovered as a fraud and recognized for playing a game and denying whom she truly is. In other words, we all doubt our abilities in some way.  This complex raises the ante and challenges us to recognize that doubt is a major detractor in identifying our place in the world.

The great poet Maya Angelou wrote: “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, “Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everyone and they’re going to find me out.”

I can personally identify with this as a writer. I’ve worked on my craft and studied it for years and don’t know if I’ve truly mastered it the way I can, but I persist and look to others for validation and approval in my quest for mastery of self.  I’ve set impossible standards for myself and this can lead to the feeling of self-defeat and depression.

I thought about how I might be guilty of creating impossible standards for myself rather than looking at the blessing of what I already am. I’m starting a new job in Campus Ministry filling in for a woman who is on maternity leave. Although I’m only going to be there a short time, I still want to put my best foot forward.

I find myself ruminating on what is the best approach on things. What’s the most reasonable way to solve this or that problem? I’m learning the new computer is tricky and finding pathways for success on it is always challenging.

Will I be true to fulfilling the mission of the school and true to the charism?

One of my colleagues is new, too, and like me she’s wondering what her new role will be and how effective she will be in fulfilling it. We have helped each other see this complex start to form and have laughingly called it out when we see it start to take root.

These fears are an expression of the ego. Attuning to God, and humility takes over.  God is in control for one of a better phrase.

I find myself turning to the tried and true tricks of the trade for spiritual fulfillment. Pray in the morning to find the center. Don’t get ahead of myself and stay present in the moment.  Be mindful of the needs of others and operate with good intentions of serving Christ first and foremost in all I do.

These spiritual disciplines help us in the act of finding the center. Our fear is nothing more than a falling off center from the truth that Christ is with us.  When we’ve aligned ourselves with Christ, fear slips away and we feel the presence of God working through us.

We cannot be imposters to God.  We are known through in through. “But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows”.Luke 12: 7

We are made to know God and serve God – made in the image of God. The sense of separation that we feel is the thing that takes us out of ourselves. Being the true instrument of Christ is attuning to that place where God resides in our hearts. We may be lost to understanding who we are for a time, but in the end all will be known.  We’re made to know God and express God through our lives. This is an authentic expression of who we are.


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