Workshop: managing impostor syndrome

At the height of Michael Jordan’s NBA career, Gatorade launched the “Be like Mike” campaign. If we replenished our electrolytes with the same sports beverage as Jordan, then we could hope to lead our teams to NBA titles, be named the NBA’s MVP, and take home multiple NBA scoring and slam-dunk championships.

It’s important to have role models, people who broaden our imaginations about what’s possible. At some point there becomes a danger, though, of feeling like a fraud if we compare ourselves to those role models – or even to those who don’t seem to be putting in the work yet reap the rewards of their positions – and judge ourselves as coming up short. There aren’t enough gallons of Gatorade to make up for gaps in privilege or charisma or opportunity or raw talent.

Even in 2020, many clergywomen are treated as if we are “playing at” pastoring, as if we don’t deserve to live into the fullness of God’s call on our lives and aren’t capable to exercise the fullness of God’s equipping for our vocations. While we often feel like we are treading water, toiling for our authority every day, we see others gaining bigger platforms.

Enter impostor syndrome: what am I doing here? Is someone going to realize I don’t belong and call me on it? Does my effort even matter, since I might never be recognized as the Michael Jordan of ministry? (Spoiler alert: YES.) Impostor syndrome is widespread and insidious. It makes us feel like our gifts and ministries aren’t valuable to God or God’s people. It urges us to lead in ways that are not authentic to us, which means we don’t leverage our God-given strengths as faithfully as we could. It causes us to doubt our decisions instead of using outcomes – whatever they might be – as fodder for ongoing discernment. It causes us to compare ourselves to others, which prompts discouragement that can eventually lead to our departure from ministry altogether. And that is not ok, because the church and the world need the leadership we have to offer.

From 11:00 am -12:30 pm central time on May 13 I will be offering an interactive workshop for clergywomen on managing impostor syndrome. Within a theological framing, we’ll name what impostors are. As counterpoints, we’ll discuss how we came to be where we are, what our impact is on our ministry settings, how we can remember our worth, and how we can develop mutual support networks to bolster one another when symptoms of impostor syndrome emerge. Participants will take away awareness and practices they can put in place to live out of God’s call on their lives and their love for God’s people rather than out of the (sometimes internalized) expectations of others.

The cost for this workshop, which will take place via the Zoom online platform, is $20. There will be an option to add on three 1-hour coaching sessions, at a discounted rate of $225 (total for all three sessions), to help you apply what you learn. Click here to sign up.

What does confidence look like?

Walking with swagger. Talking over and down to people. Taking credit for others’ ideas. Overestimating one’s abilities. These are the hallmarks of arrogance. Too often those around us – and sometimes even we ourselves – mischaracterize these actions as confidence.

This is another reason I believe that many women are put off from claiming their self-assurance. In last week’s post I talked about our difficulties getting past perfectionism and embracing failure. Just as abhorrent to us, though, is the thought of being lumped in with people who are unable to read the other people in the room and honor their contributions.

Confidence, at its heart, is our ability to trust our own competence and experience. It affects perception – our own and others’ of us – and our actual performance. But it is not a one-size-fits-all suit. As Katty Kay and Claire Shipman point out in The Confidence Code, we can tailor confidence to our personality and, when needed, our environment. In fact, we have to custom-make it, or else we’ll look like someone playing dress-up. And we’ll lose any of the benefits to our sense of self and people’s views of us that confidence offers.

Authentic self-assurance must include an ever-growing understanding of ourselves and a willingness to act (and to fail). It has to avoid denial of our gifts and contributions, our growing edges and shortcomings. Beyond these parameters, however, we can define how we show up as confident people. We can be humble. We can collaborate and share credit. We can be quietly self-possessed.

Don’t let anyone convince you that you must be braggy and bossy to show confidence, if that’s not your style. Rest in your belief that that’s not you, and carry on in your perfectly-suited self-assurance.

Photo by Natalie Pedigo on Unsplash.

Ready, set, fail

Confidence is the deep knowing in our hearts, minds, and guts that we can trust our skills and intuition. It’s essential to leadership in good times (when confidence comes more effortlessly) and particularly during challenging seasons, when it would be easy to turn up the volume on those internal and external voices of doubt. One of the reasons confidence is so important is that it doesn’t just affect our perception of our ability to do a thing, it also impacts our actual performance. Think about it: a gifted, faithfully-practicing violinist with flagging self-assurance will not play at nearly the same level as a musician with the same skills and experience but much firmer belief in herself.

How, then, do we build up this faith in ourselves? In The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know, journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman propose that one of the best ways to develop confidence is to fail – fast.

[Record scratch.]

Wait, what?

Yep, this advice seems counterintuitive on its face. The prospect of failing is often what makes us doubt ourselves in the first place. Wouldn’t more failure lead to more uncertainty? As it turns out, no. Failing fast means trying several small-stakes ventures, knowing not all of them will pan out. These efforts can get us past the perfectionism that holds so many of us back, allow us to experience mini failures so that we can know the world will not end, and give us opportunities to flex a lot of different muscles so that we learn more about our own capacity.

Confidence – the kind we can develop, since we can’t control the genetic piece – comes from action, not overthinking. What, then, are some initiatives or interests you’ve been wanting to try out but haven’t yet gotten up the gumption? What are some small, immediate actions you could take in the name of exploration?

Sure, you (and others!) might find out you’re not good at something. That’s ok. You’re still a beloved child of God, imbued with the combination of gifts that made God say, “you are good.” You’ll find out something about yourself. You’ll start building your way up to bigger failures, which will set the stage for bigger successes and more visible roles. And I’ll be cheering you on along the way, because I know that your insight and your leadership deserve a larger forum.

Ready, set, fail.

Photo by Samuel Clara on Unsplash.



The necessity of encouragement

During the fall of my sixth grade year, I tagged along when my parents took my younger brother to sign up for rec league basketball. When we arrived, I shocked my mom and dad – and myself, for that matter – by declaring that I wanted to play ball too. I was bookish. I was freakishly short. I had never shown an iota of interest in anything athletic. To their credit, my parents only exchanged brief glances, asked me once if I was sure, and then filled out my registration form.

The picture of athleticism.

I was terrible at basketball, as it turned out. I wasn’t fast. I was clumsy. I had no arm strength, so I had to shoot free throws underhanded, which was humiliating. I also wore glasses – not the sporty kind – that required me to use a very sexy [snort] croakie to keep them from being knocked off my head. I put my hair up with a tie that had a tiny piece of metal on it and went into a game with newly-pierced ears, both mistakes that prompted the referees to stop the action on my behalf. (I had to change out the hair tie and put medical tape over my earrings to avoid harming self and others.)

That sixth grade season was not pretty on my part. The only points I scored that year were in one game, when my coach told me to camp out under our team’s basket and wait for my teammates to lob defensive rebounds downcourt to me so that I could (hopefully) hit an unguarded layup. But I was having the time of my life.

After the season I had an idea of what I needed to work on (everything) to get better. So I started conditioning. I shot baskets and ran ball handling drills for hours in the driveway. I attended camp at a university known for being a powerhouse basketball program in the NAIA. And I improved. I made my school team in seventh grade. I didn’t start, and I didn’t always see much playing time, but I persevered. In eighth grade I developed my arm. No more granny-style free throws for me – in fact, I was pretty reliable from three-point range.

But I was getting discouraged. I was working my butt off without seeing my efforts translate into playing time. I could shoot and play in-your-face defense, but my ball handling was still weak, and you can’t be 4’10” with a case of the fumbles and not expect to make gluteal indentations on the bench. Before my ninth grade season, with honors courses and all the homework that accompanied them piling up, I decided to focus on what I was best at – studying. I still traveled with the school basketball team as a statistician and played church league ball, but any hope of a varsity (or beyond) athletic career vaporized.

Several years later, I ran into my eighth grade coach. We caught up a bit, and then she said, “I wish you hadn’t stopped playing. With your work ethic, you could have been an All-American.”

Record scratch.

I mumbled a “thank you” and scooted out of there before my brain exploded. This coach had never told me that she saw my potential. I thought I was forever destined to be a benchwarmer, and to me Rudy is the saddest-sack movie ever made.

The coach’s statement was no doubt hyperbolic, and yet I wonder if I would have made different choices if I had been given a slow drip of encouragement. “Keep at it – you’re improving.” “You’ll get your chance.” “You work at least as hard as anyone else on this team, and everyone notices.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy with my life as it has unfolded. And it turns out I might have given up too soon on an outlet I was passionate about.

Everyone wants to know that he is not invisible, that she is valued. To be sincerely appreciated for who she is and what he does. To have her gifts-in-development called forth. This goes for loved ones, colleagues, volunteers, community leaders, and the people who serve our food and collect our trash and protect our neighborhoods and teach our kids. Intentional eye contact or a handwritten note plus specific feedback go a long way toward strengthening relationships and encouraging dreams in people who previously did not dare to entertain them.

Who around you needs encouragement this week, and how might you offer it? And who provides you with much-needed encouragement to keep moving forward? Thanks be to God for all of these people.

The struggle is real: impostor syndrome

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed for a Baptist News Global article titled “Clarify those expectations, experts tell pastor search committees.” Two people were quoted in the piece: Craig Janney, the reference and referral guru for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and me. Craig is a bona fide expert. Churches and clergy from all over the country call him for help with ministerial searches. But the title said experts – plural – and the article included several statements from me that expounded on the headline.

I just got a promotion, I slowly realized.

In my shock, here were my inclinations:

Duck and cover my head with my hands, as if someone was about to throw something at me. (I actually did this.)

Make a snarky comment on social media about how much credibility the article had if it counted me as an expert. (It took all my willpower not to do this.)

Email Craig and apologize not only for the number of my quotes in the piece but also for the appearance of my photo above his. (I did not do this, as Craig is a humble and generous person who referred the reporter to me in the first place.)

I was suffering from an acute case of impostor syndrome.

After a few deep breaths, I started to think it through. I was on my first search committee as a junior in high school. I have been in the search process with more churches than I care to count in fourteen years of ministry. I have observed searches from the perspectives of an interim minister and of a coach working with clergy in transition. I have consulted with search teams. And the Louisville Institute saw fit to award me a grant to come up with a better-resourced, more spiritually-grounded approach to search & call.

In other words, I have done some things. OK, I can claim them. But what will it take for me to wear the clothes of someone with some expertise – and not feel like I’m swimming in them like the tween Josh at the very end of the movie Big? Time will tell.

In what roles do you have some growing room? Which roles are too tight? And what roles fit you just right? When you wear these clothes, give yourself a double thumbs-up in the mirror and a big ol’ Fonzie “heyyyyy!”

Creative Commons image “Erin and The Bronze Fonz” by Kurt Magoon is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Confidence builders

My coaching clients are very brave. Almost all of them are young clergy women. They have responded to God’s call to serve in a youth-dismissing, increasingly-disparaged, male-dominated profession. Like I said, BRAVE. And they are doing amazing ministry. I am constantly in awe.

Still, I know from my own experience that it can be tough to remain confident when you are often asked, “Are you sure you’re old enough to be a pastor?” To stand tall when the people in your care take shots at you because they are anxious about personal matters or angry at God or unhappy with the church. To keep going when you see your male friends from seminary keep climbing into bigger and bigger pulpits when those same churches won’t even grant you an interview.

My clients are changing the culture of professional ministry with their faith, gifts, and persistence. I can see the shift happening. As it does, I offer these thoughts on how to stoke one’s courage as needed. (Printable PDF available here.) Please share!

confidence builders