Emerging Scholars Network would like to thank Dr. Denise-Margaret Thompson for allowing us to share these thoughts, which first appeared in The Grad Journey newsletter of InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministry. We thought this was so good, we wanted to pass it along for your encouragement.
Whether at Top Tier research institutions or not, many grad students seem worried that they are only there by luck and everyone will soon find them out. Second Corinthians 10:5 answers that we’re to demolish arguments and pretensions setting themselves up against the knowledge of God, taking captive every thought, making it obedient to Christ.
Sharon Hodde Miller writes that Imposter Syndrome is common, very powerful and disproportionately affects high-achieving people. Writer Hannah DeMarco and Miller both suggest that imposter syndrome is the “silent killer of our calling, hiding in the shadows of our insecurities, shaming us with lies about our inadequacy, totally unaware that the classmate right next to us might feel exactly the same way we do!”
In Luke 5, Miller shows Jesus revealing his identity to Peter by filling his nets with fish. Peter toiled all night long with nothing to show, until suddenly his nets were bursting. When Peter witnessed this miracle, his eyes were opened. He fell on his knees pleading, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” In that moment, Peter felt exposed, ashamed and unworthy. His response was to hide. But here’s what’s interesting. Jesus doesn’t respond with encouragement. There’s no, “Oh honey, you are perfect just the way you are!” or “You don’t have to feel ashamed around me, I’m Jesus!” No, Jesus doesn’t coddle Peter before shifting focus entirely. Instead, Jesus replies “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!’ And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus! These words cut to the heart of imposter syndrome and its fallout.
Miller says the core problem isn’t that we feel bad about ourselves but that Imposter syndrome distracts from action. Fear and inadequacy are like weights around our ankles preventing us from running full speed by keeping our eyes fixed on our inadequacy. As long as we’re preoccupied with our inability rather than God’s ability, we will live a life of fearful restraint and small goals, never plunging deep into the waters of faith. Imposter syndrome stands between us and following God’s call, convincing us we’re not good or able enough.
How, then, do we disarm the power of Imposter Syndrome? When that voice inside your head tells you that you’re a phony, we can turn to the Bible to remember that our identity can be rooted in God and that we can find our confidence in God. (2 Corinthians 10:5, 2 Corinthians 3:4-6, 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, Psalm 121:1-3 and Romans 8:15-17)
When imposter syndrome takes hold of us, we must take hold of it. Make it obedient to Christ, who died on the cross to justify our belonging. By the blood of Christ, we belong—we belong in the church, we belong in our calling, and we belong anywhere that God wants us to be, including the Top Tier 1, 2 or 3 research institutions. So don’t look at the people around you, or at your shortcomings; don’t even look at yourself. Look at Jesus and move!
About the author:
Recently appointed as IVCF-USA’s National Director, Graduate and Faculty Ministries Black Scholars and Professionals, Professor Denise-Margaret Thompson is also CoFounder and Executive Director of the Caribbean Fine Cocoa Forum, Volunteer CoOrdinator of the Caribbean Fellowship of Evangelical Students Graduates and Faculty Ministries (CARIFES-GFM) and past Director of the Cipriani College of Labour and Co-Operative Studies