Imposter Syndrome

Somewhere out there, a debut author is struggling. They can’t believe they were lucky enough to find an agent, let alone get their book published. If you ask them, they’re not really good at writing: their story is weak, their characters are derivative of other works, and their sales numbers are a fluke. They don’t think anyone will ever read a second book from them, especially if readers understood what a hack they are.

Someone out there, a songwriter is making a living playing the music they created. They’re standing on stage in front of an audience that’s singing along. Yet they don’t understand how so many people know their music. There are hundreds of better singers and better guitarists. They wonder how they got so lucky to have fans in attendance and songs on the radio when better musicians can’t even get a gig at a seedy bar. If only people knew how talentless they were, they’d have to abandon the music industry for a normal job.

Somewhere out there is a thespian surprised to be offered a lead role after auditioning for the part. Despite acting in professional theater for decades, receiving dozens of rave reviews, and getting critical praise from local media, they don’t feel like they deserve any of it. They memorize lines and dance routines, wear stage makeup and change costumes, and faithfully attend every rehearsal and performance. Yet somewhere deep inside, they feel like a fraud.

This is what it’s like for people who experience imposter syndrome. No matter how often they’ve proven their skill and competence in their chosen craft, regardless of the level of success they achieve, they feel like an imposter. They believe themselves to be unworthy, undeserving, and incapable of the recognition they receive. They often feel guilty for their successes and deny any complimentary description of their work. Unfortunately, no amount of book, album, or ticket sales can cure imposter syndrome because it’s not an actual diagnosable disorder. It’s a reaction to external stimulation, possibly a symptom of other disorders like depression or autism.

If you feel like you’re an imposter in your occupation, rest assured you’re not alone. If you’ve ever thought to yourself “if they ever found out what I’m really like, my career would be over,” you’re in good company. Those who have publicly admitted their struggles with imposter syndrome include some people who were the best at what they do.

Like poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou.
Or one of the stars from the Harry Potter franchise, Emma Watson.
Or the prolific writer, Hugo award winner, and delightful weirdo Neil Gaiman.
Or former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Or the 10th (and my personal favorite) Doctor, David Tennant.
Or the enigmatic and brilliant front man of Radiohead, Thom Yorke.
Or one of the celebrated and busiest stars in Hollywood, Tom Hanks.
Or the master of horror, Stephen King.

Those of you suffering with imposter syndrome can also include me in your ranks. As a writer and a DJ, I have severe doubts in my talent. No matter how frequently people tell me they enjoy my writing, I still think I’m skeptical I have what it takes to be successful. Regardless of how many clients leave positive reviews of my gigs, I don’t believe I’m that good as a DJ.

It’s not just my creative pursuits either - I feel like an imposter in almost every aspect of my life. If my kids do something amazing, I don’t understand how I got so lucky to be their dad. If someone compliments how well behaved my kids are, I think they definitely didn’t learn it from me. Almost daily, I think to myself that my kids deserve a better dad. Or my wife deserves a better husband. Or my parents deserve a better son.

I’m a farmer with imposter syndrome too. I frequently walk out to the barn thinking to myself how completely clueless I am about all of it. I’m just a nerd from the suburbs, what the hell do I think I’m doing out here taking care of chickens and goats and horses. Every time something bad happens on the farm, even if it was an act of nature, I blame myself.

I don’t need pity or sympathy. I don’t expect anyone to fix this broken spot in my brain. Rather, I offer kinship. You are not alone.
But there’s more. While I want to offer the raised fist of solidarity, I also come with a challenge. There is another place where I experience imposter syndrome, and it’s a place where I shouldn’t feel this way. While no one can cure the voices in my head telling me I’m a fraud everywhere else, this one location can be resolved: church.

Despite believing in the same God, loving the same Jesus, trusting in the same saving grace, I feel like an imposter every time I step inside a church building – like their beliefs are completely incompatible with mine. Or maybe my beliefs are incapable with theirs.

When I attend church, I sit in the pews (or a chair in a neatly arranged row) and contemplate the possible qualms the people around me might have with me. While the pastor preaches, I wonder “what if they really knew?”

If church folk knew I agree with Black Lives Matter, support athletes who kneel during the National Anthem, and think Christians are failing miserably in racial reconciliation, would they want me in their church?

If church folk knew I think the money they spend on TV monitors, soundboards, websites, video graphics, and bouncy castles could be better spent on feeding the homeless, would I be welcomed?

If they knew I was not only accepting but also affirming of the LGBT community, would they kick me out?

If they knew I disagreed with the way they presented the gospel, or if I think the way they teach biblical principles is incorrect and possibly harmful, would they call me an apostate or heathen?

If they knew I refuse to vote for a Republican, would they excommunicate me?

If they saw me drinking a mojito, or dancing while I’m DJing, or buying tickets for an R-rated movie; if they heard me cuss, or sing along with some of that “devil music,” or promote deconstruction; or if they didn’t hear me proselytize in conversations with my atheist, Muslim, and pagan friends, would they keep their distance or shun me?

I say this can be fixed because I shouldn’t have to feel like an imposter in church. That should be the one place where I belong. Since I don’t feel that way, there are two solutions.

1. I stop attending church.
2. Christians everywhere openly and honestly examine their beliefs and why they believe what they do.

The latter option would require people to change - a process that can be uncomfortable for many – even scary for some. If this were to happen, it would transform the physical spaces where Christians meet, turning them into safe spaces for members and visitors to doubt their doubts and believe their beliefs. It would be a home for those who are wandering, lost, hurting, or broken. Churches should be accepting of where and who we are now while challenging us to grow and improve. Churches should welcome and not condemn sincere questions. Diversity of thought should be invitations to productive discussions instead of angry debates.

The first option would be a whole lot easier. As tempting it is, I love God so much that I am moved to care about God’s people, even if they don’t care about me.

So I go. I feel awkward and out of place. Until American evangelicals pull their collective heads out of their collective asses, I will continue feeling like an imposter.

But what’s new? I’ve been an outcast my entire life.


Who’s to Blame?

Allow me to overstate the obvious: everything is getting expensive lately. The burdensome costs of basic needs are crippling the average American and if things don’t change soon, we will see a new boon for poverty and crime rates. Welcome to the third world ‘Murica. Was it worth it?

I’ll skip the statistics because I’m sure you’ve seen them. Those graphs comparing tuition rates and average annual incomes make it easy to see how working your way through college is a thing of the past. Access to higher education is increasingly unattainable without entering a lifetime of crippling debt. Or the charts showing the increasing new car prices year after year. Gone are the days of purchasing a reliable vehicle for a thousand dollars. You get what you pay for and many new cars cost more than their owners make in a year. More debt.

What about the necessities? Food, clothing, housing – all of it quickly becoming unaffordable for the average citizen. While a rich person and a poor person will pay the same amount for a gallon of milk, it’s more expensive for the person who makes less than $30k a year than it is for the person who makes $30k a week. Gas prices are making pedestrian commutes appealing. People with limited means are turning thrift shops into haute couture. And don’t even get me started on the real estate market, mortgage prices, or average costs of rent.
As someone who was weaned on Reaganomics then came of age in the relative peace and prosperity of the Clinton era, none of this makes sense to me. Well, actually, the numbers and statistics make sense. The natural unintended consequences make sense. The “I told you this would happen” makes sense. The functions of economic policies make sense (even if absurd). But the logic of it all doesn’t compute. The fact we allowed things to get so wild and out of control befuddles me. The believable concept of hard work being the keys to your future isn’t ancient history. I was raised in a world rewarding ingenuity and initiative. We don’t live in that world anymore. Our founding fathers’ ideal of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness now has a qualifying addendum: as long as you can afford it.

Why? How did we get here? Whose fault is it? Who’s to blame?

You could blame the president. He creates policy regarding foreign trade, interest rates, and where we get crude oil. You could blame Biden for not acting fast enough to hold back the tide of hyperinflation or for enacting laws you think exacerbate the situation. So sure, blame him but he’s only a small part of the problem.

You could also blame past administrations. The effects of presidential policies don’t end the day they leave office. Decisions made by one individual could have consequences that last decades. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame Congress for passing legislation detrimental to the common interest of the average American citizen. Or criticize them for being so preoccupied with infighting and partisan chicanery they end up doing nothing to help the people they represent. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame special interest groups and lobbyists financing our representatives who enact laws that benefit them but no one else. Big oil, big pharma, big banks, big tobacco, big guns, all prosper and escape accountability while the rest of us suffer. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame massive corporations for abusing and controlling the market. Huge conglomerations buy out their competition and diversify their offerings so everything we buy is sold by a select few of these giants of consumerism. Kraft, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Disney, Johnson & Johnson, JP Morgan, Comcast, Luxottica, Pfizer, MetLife. We don’t like monopolies in theory but in practice they exist. They control the prices we pay for nearly everything. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame the ultra-rich. People like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg. They use their massive wealth to enforce their desires and avoid legal ramifications of anything shady they have (maybe, possibly, allegedly) done. Their riches protect them from the turmoil of our economic crisis – completely detached from the reality of normal American struggles. They manipulate our culture to fit their dreamscapes while the wealth gap grows wider. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame utility companies. They continually raise rates, testifying before regulatory commissions these price hikes are urgent needs to remain in operation. Meanwhile, they’re raking in record profits and their CEOs live lavish lives on generous incomes. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame Wall Street. These investment bankers, stock traders and analysts, hedge funds buyers, aggressive investors, corporate raiders, and people who profit on the misfortunes of others. They live, work, and play in a fantasy land where all of the rules are made up. They’re able to succeed while the rest of the economy crashes. And because our nation’s economic health is based on the winnings of the stock market gambling, they’re a protected class. These white collar crooks make money while the rest of us struggle. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame the regulations that make it more expensive to operate a business. Or the businesses that exploited our environment and flaunted our safety making such regulations necessary. Or a workforce demanding livable wages. Or the staffing shortages in restaurants, retail stores, hotels, and other hospitality jobs. Or the mistreatment of low-wage workers. Or the supply chain issues. Or increased shipping costs. Or crumbling infrastructure. All little issues that contribute to the rising cost of goods and services. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame our culture. For generations, we have lived beyond our means with expenses greater than our incomes - living off credit. We have transformed keeping up with the Joneses into a lifestyle. Our rampant consumerism and demands for instant gratification returns a self-sabotaging cost. The suppliers of the things we want and need know we will pay any price to get what we want and need. So sure, you could blame us but we’re only a small part of the problem.

The fact of the matter is we can’t blame one individual or a single group. Or at least we shouldn’t. There isn’t any one person or group of people responsible.

How did we get here? Whose fault is it? Who’s to blame? It’s all of the above. It’s the system that governs our lives. It’s unfettered capitalism. It’s rampant greed. It is flawed and corrupted. It only benefits the rich and powerful. We believed the myth of trickledown economics. We voted against our own interests over and over again. We did this to ourselves. We allowed it to happen.

If you insist on blaming something for our economic woes, make sure you blame *gestures wildly* everything.