William Shatner who happens to be one of the coolest actors, IMHO (and I’m referring to Boston Legal because I’m so not a trekkie), was once asked how he became great in his craft. He said that actually, most of the time, he feels like an impostor who doesn’t really know what he’s doing but since whatever he’s been doing has been working for more than 3 decades, then he’s convinced that he must be doing something right. I felt better when I read that because unknown to many, I, too, suffered from what is clinically known as Impostor Syndrome. Yes, there is such a thing, go ahead and google it.
Impostor syndrome is when you feel that you’re not really good, you’ve just been lucky all your life. I once took an online test to see if I’m afflicted with it, and true to form, I had all the symptoms of this “disease.” As proof, until recently, I used to think that someone from the admissions office of my law school committed a mistake in checking my entrance exam (this was before the time of computerized exams), or someone from the Office of the Bar Confidant mistakenly typed my name as among the bar passers and they couldn’t take it back anymore so they just let it pass. I was convinced for the longest time that the only reason I managed to breeze through law school was because I was lucky not to have been called for difficult recitations (it’s tempting to think this way when recitations are dependent on how your professor shuffles your class cards) and the only reason I haven’t had a major blooper in my profession is that I haven’t been taking too many risks. That, and of course my firm belief that malakas lang talaga ako kay God.
The downside of having this syndrome is that you always entertain thoughts of being outed by people who are really good. Every assignment feels like The Assignment That Will Expose Me for the Fraud that I Truly Am. Every new colleague is a suspected detective who will reveal to everyone that you have been an impostor all along. And when, by some luck, you survive an assignment without any untoward incident, you simply tell yourself that that’s only because your luck hasn’t run out yet, but nothing has changed and you’re still an impostor who’s only as good as your last assignment.
My well meaning friends often told me that I should disabuse myself of this notion. They assured me that test administrators never commit mistakes that major, and that no impostor could last 37 years pretending to be someone she’s not. I, however,promptly pointed out to them that since they were my friends, they weren’t in a position to be objective about this matter. Hence, their opinion didn’t count.
So I was really ready to embrace this syndrome and was even willing to join a club if ever there was one, when in one of my prayer times, when I was begging God for wisdom and knowledge to finish my recent assignment without being outed, I was led to ask myself these questions: Why are you so paralyzed by this syndrome? Why are so afraid? Does it really matter whether you are good or not? Cannot God use even the simplest people to advance His purpose?
That’s when I realized that all my life, I’ve been missing the point. It’s never about being good, or being lucky, or even being malakas kay God. It’s about responding to a call. God doesn’t really look at our competence; He looks instead at our intentions. And just like that, it became clear to me that there’s no reason to worry because I don’t really have to be excellent; I only have to be sincere in my response. So yes, maybe I’m not really an exemplary lawyer, and come to think of it, I never claimed to be one. But I know that I had the sincerest intentions when I decided to be one. And even now, I know that when I do my job, however big or small it is, I do it with the purest intention to give back, to contribute, to make a difference in whatever way I can.
And that was how, at the start of 2013—- a year that’s bound to be professionally challenging for me— I came to overcome the fatal Impostor Syndrome. I did so, not by convincing myself that I’m good, but by realizing that being good is not the point. The point is to be sincere in my motivations. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. I don’t claim to have a pure heart— I’m many lifetimes away from having one—but at least that’s something I know I’ve been working on for the past 37 years. And with respect to this, only God can out me.