“In our consumer-driven society, an image of flawless proficiency is crucial to success. To admit failure in a world that judges value by polished surfaces is to lose your edge as a commodity in the marketplace… We’re expected to exhibit a quality of perfection we know we don’t possess. All we can do is attempt to hide our sense of insufficiency. The “imposter syndrome” leaves us juggling multiple strategies for concealment while warding off a nagging fear of being “found out.” We know we aren’t as capable as people assume (or expect) us to be.”
Penned by retired theology professor Belden Lane, the above reveals the inadequacy he felt during his teaching career. Although he managed to be well thought of, Lane was never at home in the high powered intellectual atmosphere of academia. What gave him the courage to confess his hidden feeling of incompetence, was that he knew some version of the “imposter syndrome” is present in many of us.
The self-consciousness with which we may be burdened can be experienced not only in our professional life as was the case with Lane, but also in a personal sense of shame for misdeeds past or present; in either case, we know we are often not as “together” as we want to be, or as we might appear to others. The “nagging fear of being found out” can hang over us like a cloud, whence comes the voice of judgment and criticism: “you are not as competent, intelligent, or virtuous as you pretend to be.”
What can rescue us from this persistent and self-defeating voice? What, if anything, is powerful enough to counter its influence? Enter grace. Understood as the divinity of our humanity, the sacredness of our self, grace is an unconditional benevolence from which we cannot and need not hide. Those aspects of our self we may be ashamed of or feel self-conscious about can cause us to lose touch with grace, but nothing can occasion its loss. The sovereignty of our goodness/Godness is more real than our imperfections.
When it comes to grace, “flawless proficiency” and “polished surfaces” are not the measure of worth – we don’t have to be graceful to be grace-full. We need only to humbly accept ourselves as flawed in order to be free of being “found out,” and in order to become our best selves, for as author Anne LaMott claims, “Grace meets us where we are, but does not leave us where it found us.”