Updated: Sep 20, 2021
Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? Ever had negative self-talk or doubts about your ability? Well, you’re not alone. I do too. Welcome to episode five of The Heart of a Leader! As a leader, the world’s idea of “success” will tell you that you’re not good enough. That you should stop trying to do something amazing, move out of the way, and go back to mediocrity where you belong. Spoiler alert: those are lies. In this episode, I’ll discuss ways to overcome imposter syndrome and why it’s not entirely a bad thing. Let’s get started.
Imposter Syndrome is Real
Have you ever purchased a new product, let’s say a car, and afterwards notice that everyone else seems to own one too? That happened to me when we bought our Prius. Since then, I notice them all the time. In recent months, I’ve been noticing a phrase pop up time and time again: “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.” Have you heard it too? Now that I’ve mentioned it, you’ll probably start noticing it more often. I’m not sure who that quote is attributed to, but when I hear people say it, you’d think they were quoting scripture itself. And there’s some truth to it, but it’s not the whole story. I would argue that, sure, God equips the called, but he also calls the equipped. And, to take it one step further, He’s the one who does the equipping in both situations. Every gift that you and I have —our personality, our story, our strengths, and our passions— it’s all from God. Nothing we have is purely from our own effort. You can’t create yourself. You may be able to learn a skill, but you can’t give yourself talent. You didn’t choose to be born into your family in that location at this point in history. Those were all given to you from God. On the flip side of the coin, I believe so are all of your inadequacies and weaknesses. So, when you’re struggling with imposter syndrome, that feeling of not being worthy or equipped enough to fulfill the role you’re in or the calling in your heart, it’s likely based in truth. The negative self-talk and lies in our head wouldn’t have any power over us if they weren’t rooted in some element of truth. For example, when I first considered launching this podcast, I thought to myself: “Who are you to create a podcast? Who would want to listen to you? You don’t have experience in broadcasting. You don’t have the right equipment. How can you coach and lead these business leaders if you haven’t been a C-suite executive? You’re not nearly as good as John Maxwell or Patrick Lencioni. Heck! You’re not even as good as that one guy from your church! Why don’t you go settle down in mediocrity where you belong? Know your role and stay in your lane.” These are what author Jon Acuff call “broken soundtracks.” If I had listened to those broken soundtracks, you wouldn’t be listening to this podcast. I’ve been struggling with imposter syndrome for most of my life. I don’t know if it’ll ever fully go away. And, in hindsight, I’m not sure that I want it to. Because those questions, that self-doubt, it all points me back to God. The truth is that God is made known in my weakness. Everything I do, everything I accomplish, can only be attributed to God and his provision in my life.
You're Not Alone
I know I’m not the only one who feels these things. I believe there’s biblical basis for this idea too. Take Moses for example. Before he led the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses had every excuse in the book to not be that guy. You know… the one who would stand in front of the Pharaoh and demand that the Israelites be set free. He was born into a place and time where he wasn’t allowed to live. He was born a Jew but grew up to become Egyptian royalty. He didn’t seem to be welcome in either group. Out of anger at injustice, he became a murderer. Out of fear for his life, he fled. So, when God spoke to him from the burning bush, commanding him to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt, Moses’s imposter syndrome kicked in. He replied. “Who am I that I should go?” God’s response? “I will be with you.” Not fully convinced, Moses began coming up with more reasons he wasn’t the right guy. “People won’t believe me.” So, God gave him signs and wonders. “But I’m not eloquent.” So, God said he’ll give him the words to speak. Finally, he begged for God to send someone else. So, God gave him Aaron to do the public speaking. Ultimately, God was the one who made everything happen. All Moses was asked to do was show up. It’s as if God implied, “Don’t worry about the ‘how’… I’ve got that taken care of. Just show up, do as I tell you, and I’ll take care of the rest.” And when everything was said and done, Moses (rightly) gave God the credit for everything. I would assert that, when looking for the ideal candidate to free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, Moses wouldn’t have fit the job description. Most hiring managers would probably toss that resume in the trash. But that’s not what God does. He takes broken, imperfect people who aren’t necessarily the best fit for the job and uses them for amazing things. I don’t know about you, but that gives me hope. That gives me the confidence to show up with my very best each day and serve people with the gifts I’ve been given. That’s all anyone could ever ask of you. Does that mean you’ll succeed at everything you set out to do? No. That’s not the point. The results, the success, aren’t the point. Here’s the point… when you feel called to do something, don’t worry about whether or not you’re fully equipped to do it. The point is to honor the call that’s been placed on your heart. Your job is merely to show up and serve without regard to the outcome. God will take care of the results.
You Can Overcome Imposter Syndrome
If imposter syndrome is something you deal with, remember… you’re not alone. I deal with it too. So do most people who are trying to create something new, lead others, or who are trying things outside their comfort zone. If you’d like some help with it, here are four things that work well for me:
Have a healthy understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. Like I mentioned earlier, the doubts and negative self-talk wouldn’t have the power they do if there weren’t elements of truth to them. It’s important to know your strengths, but it’s equally important to know your weaknesses. Acknowledge them. Don’t deny them. Instead of burying your weaknesses deep in the recesses of negative self-talk, bring them out into the light. Write them down. Talk with someone in your inner circle about them. Stop struggling alone and beating yourself up because you’re not great at something. When you and I bring our struggles and weaknesses out into the light, they lose their power over us. Acknowledging them also keeps us humble and opens the door for point number two.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. No matter how hard you practice at some things, no matter how much time you put in, there will be weaknesses that never become strengths. And that’s okay. You and I aren’t created the same way. We don’t have the same talents. So, in those moments where you feel a particular passion, conviction, or calling, but you don’t have all of the tools to make it work, ask for help. Look around you and find other people with a similar passion, but have skillsets that can supplement your weaknesses. You weren’t created to do life alone. You were created to live in fellowship with other people. From a Christian perspective, Paul wrote to the church in Rome “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not have all the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…” So ask for help. Join together and lead others by giving them the opportunity to join you in your mission.
Commit to the practice. I’ve recently read Seth Godin’s book The Practice. One of the biggest lessons I learned from it is that “good enough” is good enough. Most of the time, my imposter syndrome is a symptom of knowing how good something could be. But if you’re waiting for your output or final product to be ideal, then you’ll never start. My friend, Jeff Brown, from the Read to Lead podcast, told me a story of his early days in podcasting. He attempted to interview Seth Godin and, in his e-mail, mentioned that he didn’t have a big audience or something. Seth respectfully declined the request, but not without encouraging Jeff with one word: “yet.” Jeff didn’t have a big enough audience—yet. When imposter syndrome reminds you of how far away you are from your ideal, give yourself the benefit of the “yet”. “I’m not a good public speaker—yet.” “I’m not good at having difficult conversations—yet.” “I’m not good at casting vision and getting buy-in—yet.” In his book, The Practice, Seth writes, “Of course, at first, all work is lousy. At first, the work can’t be any good… But if you’re the steam shovel that keeps working at it, bit by bit, you make progress, the work gets done, and more people are touched. There’s plenty of time to make it better later. Right now, your job is to make it.” So, I encourage you to give yourself the benefit of the “yet” while showing up each day and committing to the practice of doing the best you can. (By the way, it’s worth mentioning that Jeff’s podcast grew and he’s interviewed Seth Godin — twice.)
Pay attention to how you’re already making an impact. Even though you may not have fully unleashed your potential, I guarantee that whatever you can put out today has already, or has the ability to, positively impact at least one person. To go back to the wisdom of Seth Godin, he writes that “Your work is never going to be good enough (for everyone). But it’s already good enough (for someone)." So, acknowledge the ‘someone’. This podcast episode may not reach a hundred thousand people. But, as I sit here and talk with you, if your life is made better by what I’m creating, even if you’re the only one who ever finds value in it… then you were worth all of the effort.
You're Not an Imposter
Imposter syndrome is real. It reminds us of our inadequacies. If you let it have power over you, your negative self-talk and doubt will paralyze you and you’ll never be the leader you were created to be. But if we embrace those inadequacies, imposter syndrome also humbles us and reminds us of our need for God and others. I also believe that imposter syndrome is proof that you’re trying to do something outside of your comfort zone —something new, something amazing. So, have a healthy understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. Know what you’re good at and what you’re not. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Surround yourself with others who can supplement your weaknesses and join you on your mission. Commit to the practice and give yourself the benefit of the “yet.” Merely show up each day and serve others by giving the best you have. Let God handle the results. And, lastly, pay attention to how your work is already making an impact. Remember that perfection is impossible and “good enough” is good enough, even if it’s for one person.
Be the Leader You Were Created to Be
Thank you for being here with me today and trusting me to speak into your life. If you found value in this episode, be sure to follow The Heart of a Leader on Apple Podcasts or subscribe via your favorite podcast player. For more resources and information on how I could serve you in your personal growth and leadership journey, go to DanielJenkinsCoaching.com. If you’d like to be encouraged and inspired, you can find me on LinkedIn @CoachDanielJenkins or on Instagram and Facebook @DanielJenkinsCoaching. As you go about your week, remember, you’re not an imposter. You are the only you who has ever been or ever will be. So, go out into the world and be the leader you were created to be.