Impostor Phenomenon

Engineering is a challenging career. The work itself is challenging: creative thinking, trying to solve problems that might not even be fully defined, developing solutions based on limited information, trying to find opportunities for improvement while fighting against the attitudes of complacency from people who have “always done it this way.” However, these external factors aren’t the only roadblock; high achievers may also face something called Imposter Syndrome.

The American Psychology Association explains “impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.”

This fear is being discussed more openly, but I have only seen it discussed in a secular context.

While I recognize that there are other factors that contribute to experiencing imposter syndrome, like every other aspect of our life, we should at least attempt a faith-based approach.

From a theological standpoint, it’s true: we don’t really deserve anything. Every blessing we have comes from God’s goodness. So should we concede to the fact we don’t deserve anything and feel terrible about our success? Absolutely not! This is the devil trying to take away the joy God wants to bless us with. From an earthly standpoint, it’s fair to acknowledge that our hard work has helped us achieve a certain level of success. However, we must rightly acknowledge that the initial source of that goodness we are experiencing comes from God.

We can do this with a proper understanding of humility.

I think we as Catholics often view virtue like the pinnacle; we need to keep trying and trying to fully live out a virtuous life. The problem with that perspective is that we can overcorrect. One of the things that has really helped me better understand virtue is seeing it at the center point of a continuum rather than an endpoint. Rather than viewing humility as the opposite of pride, we should look at it as a balance between both pride and self-degradation.

In our attempts to stay humble amidst success, we may go so far to demean ourselves. That is not what God wants us to do. We are made in His image and likeness, and we are immensely loved by Him. We should absolutely celebrate our accomplishments and thank God for the gifts He has given us to be successful. The key is to keep God at the center. C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

So how can we find that virtuous point that lies between the stereotypical, egomaniac engineer and the self-doubting, fearful person? I believe there are several ways.

  • Pray the Litany of Humility. This prayer is a fantastic way to reorient our lives towards God. It is often recommended for people struggling with pride, but I also found that it helps in the midst of self-doubt. Rather than letting earthly concerns get me down, I am focused on holiness.
  • Thank God for your successes. This is my less cheesy way of saying count your blessings. Again, we should be happy when something good happens. Don’t diminish your hard work or reject compliments you have earned. Instead, take the time to turn to God and thank Him for how He has helped you.
  • Turn to God when doubt creeps in. If you find yourself questioning how you got to be as successful as you are or if you deserve your God, don’t give into that doubt spiral. Stop and thank God for getting you there and ask Him to give you hope. Turn what Satan is hoping to use as a way to drag you down to despair as an opportunity to lift yourself up by glorifying God. Remember that everything you do, good or bad, pales in comparison to your identity as a child of God.
  • Make God a central part of your day. Find time to say prayers within your day. Keep a Saint Patrick prayer card in your wallet. Hang a quote from a saint or a Bible verse in your cube. By weaving our day around God, it becomes easier to live virtuous lives.
  • Regularly participate in the sacraments. I know we hear this all the time, but that is because it is so important. Confession helps heal us of our sins whether they are pride or despair. Whatever end of the continuum you fall, receiving the sacrament of reconciliation can heal you of any sin that may have stemmed from that. The Eucharist strengthens our faith.

I won’t pretend that there aren’t other factors that contribute to pride and self-degradation, but I think that turning to god is the best starting point. By strengthening our faith and asking Him to guide us, we can address the issues whether there is a spiritual solution or something else.

 

 

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Kate Hendrick lives in Wisconsin with her husband and works full-time as a process engineer. Though Kate is a “cradle Catholic” she didn’t fully embrace the Catholic faith until mid-college. She discusses the challenges she and other young adults face as they try to live authentically Catholic lives on her blog Stumbling Toward Sainthood. You can also find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.