"I'm Just Here Until Someone Better Comes Along to Replace Me" —And Other Lies Impostor Syndrome Told Me
What is the lie—or lies— that your impostor syndrome tells you? *
“They probably wouldn’t let you preach if they could hear all the doubts you carry with you every day.”
“That award belongs to someone who’s a lot kinder (or smarter) than you.”
“Someone’s going to come along someday soon who can do that thing better than you and then you’ll be useless.”
“If only they knew how many drafts you haven’t finished.”
“You’re not a real writer (or artist) until someone buys your work.”
“You’re not as smart as the other people in this room so I don’t know why you’re here.”
“You’re probably just going to quit again anyways.”
We all have at least one lie that lives in our heads. These are just a few of mine.
Sometimes, all it takes is a simple scroll down my Instagram, Facebook of Twitter feed for the lies to start rolling in. For comparison to drag me down. For me to, without examining my thoughts further, believe that someone is more put together, more certain and more successful than I will ever be….and that person doesn’t think like I do.
Share the journey: How did you get here?
I discovered that there was a word for this while reading a book by Tara Beth Leach called “Emboldened.” Suddenly, I could look back and see it throughout my childhood.
I’ll never forget the time a grade school teacher questioned whether or not I wrote a writing assignment. That questioning and her doubt are bookmarked in my mind when I think about what it means to feel like an impostor in your own life: it’s embarrassing. I remember that day because I felt like something I did was wrong and all she really did was check my handwriting and make me demonstrate it for her.
I keep feeling like someone, someday will come and “check me” for authenticity. Only, that time, when they do, I will not pass the test.
Face your reflection: Is there a disconnect between your inner self and your outer self?
Quite honestly, I am still having a hard time figuring out who this outer self is, since I only know what I hear from others about how she is perceived.
From the time I was 8, I remember making the decision that I was going to be funny to make friends. After having a hard time in 3rd grade and struggling to fit in, I learned to cultivate a personality that could impress people or at the very least, humor them. At times, I see that side of me at work. When she is in control, I am like this spectator on the inside, amazed by her social ease. She is is not me. She cannot be me because I am shy, awkward and uncomfortable. She is not me. She is extroverting so hard and the real me is an introvert who’d rather be alone than in a crowd. She is not me. She gets up on stage and says vulnerable things. The real me is too embarrassed to share those thoughts in public.
Scenario: You walk into a room of your "peers"—describe who they are....do these people encourage you, intimidate you or both?
I am in a season of developing new peers as I get acclimated to the seminary environment. My first class really did a number on me. When I looked around the room, I didn’t know the people around me. My inner fear for who I was immediate set me off on comparing myself to everyone in the room and propelling the inner dialogue that I was not smart enough to be in the room. I looked at my notebook and someone else’s laptop and thought about how I wasn’t prepared enough. There’s always that one person who bought their books before class started…and I was sitting directly across from that guy.
But I did have a few peers in the room I felt encouraged by. Before attending seminary, I did a lot of research and I knew what to expect. A lack of diversity in my education, from peers and staff are the norm.
When I could get myself to snap out of my discomfort, I focused on the fact that I sat a room of about 20 people, 6 of us were black (including the professor) and 3 of us were women. I allowed myself to think about the odds that were stacked, not just against me, but all of us…and yet here we were.
Who is in your "hall of fame"? How does this person(s) influence how you view yourself and your potential?
I had a few teachers in high school who supported my writing. One gave me a Shakespeare journal (which I still have). It was bound by canvas and leather and when I held it for the first time, I knew it cost at least the price of 20 of my 70-page spiral bound notebooks combined.
I went to a church when I was 19 and fell into spoken word. It was a rich part of my history and I also look back at it as an affirmation of my call to preach, study and teach. Those poems revealed my concern for Christians “living like Christ.” Those poems allowed me to meet my mentor and spiritual grandfather, who told me a college where I could study the bible. He invested in me through encouragement through letters, books and prayers throughout my college years and still to this day.
I have had many a great youth pastor or pastoral figures in my life. But my most influential youth pastor straight up told me to preach and called me pastor when I was 17. He was the first person to put it into my mind that I would end up in seminary.
In college, I’ve had just about all the support and encouragement one could ever need. But I appreciate a particular professor who is not only in himself a role model and encouragement. He was intentional about helping me connect with other black women pastors and leaders.
(Notice these are all men. I’ve never had a hard time connecting and finding male mentors. Gender has seemingly never influenced these individuals in calling out my potential and taking steps to guide me along. Often, this is the case because finding women mentors is difficult, or women who are able to mentor don’t see themselves as successful and therefore, they don’t. Just a guess.)
There are many more, of course. I’ve been part of a church for a year where so many awesome black women attend. Women I hope to feature in this series. Women who are in my hall of fame simply for being and thriving. Women who are doing amazing things! I am in good company and I can’t wait for you all to read about the awesome women I know.
What do you do to remind yourself that you are enough?
Drink tea. Do a face mask. Yoga. Laugh. As much as I can love this body I am in, I try to exercise self-compassion. In my thought life, I’m finding mood-tracking to be very helpful.
I follow a bunch of motivational and inspiring IG pages and I share affirming posts with my friends. But I often save them for myself.
I write pretty and kind phrases in my planner for just me.
I tell my impostor to shut up and let me live.
How would you encourage someone who is afraid of their potential?
Lately, I’ve been thinking about myself in terms of present-me and future-me. I think about what I can do today to make future-me’s life easier. Sometimes the timeline is 20 minutes from now, sometimes It’s 20 years from now. It all boils down to this idea:
Find a way to love who you are enough right now that the only thing you’re afraid of is letting yourself down.
Have more confidence in the ability of “future you.” I haven’t met future-me, yet, but I can already tell she’s going to be okay.