The Impostor Syndrome

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.


About whathappensinbetween

It took me almost an hour to figure out what to write here so I guess that says a lot about me.
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5 Responses to The Impostor Syndrome

  1. Rab says:

    Hi Gay,

    Impostor Syndrome is a common afflictione among lawyers. Don’t think you’re alone. I reckon it’s because we regard our profession so highly. Here in the West, lawyers are respected the same as bin-men or teachers or nurses are respected- not so in the Philippines. In fact, anyone with a job is respected. The alternative is to not have a job and rely on government benefits and free-housing. I wasn’t overly happy as a lawyer there. Like you, everything seemed so easy for me, and challenge was gone when I ticked every box that I thought would make me be considered ‘successful’ as a law student and lawyer. But at the end of it all, I discovered that I wasn’t cut out for it, I had to get out or be trapped in something I don’t have passion for anymore. But I don’t regret going through law school, law firm, and government work. These experiences led me to what I have become now and where I am. My life here in UK is far from the abundant lifestyle I left there, but in here I found peace and contentment. And everyday is a challenge, and I love challenges as you know. As a foreigner, I had to prove myself all the time- to others that’s unfortunate, but to me it’s a blessing because I get satisfaction converting non-believers. Yeah, I’m weird that way.
    So enjoy life my friend, no matter what you decide to do. As you said in your later post, follow your heart and God will support you as He always had. A friend once told me, you don’t say in your deathbed, ‘I wish I spent more time in the office’.
    Hi to your Mum, you are both blessed to have each other.

    • Thanks Rab! Yeah, I guess we’ve come to the point where we don’t take our profession too seriously anymore, and I meant that in a positive way. 😉 I know what you mean about not wanting to be trapped. I guess for some of us, there’s always the persistent need to do something more and to not be stereotyped. I’m happy to know you’ve found your place in the sun. Not everyone is able to do so. So good for you! You have nothing to prove, especially as far as being a good person is concerned. 😉

  2. Rab says:


    Thanks! You’re always a ray of sunshine. 2013 will be your year my friend. I can feel it. Not good to be promising things you can’t reasonably predict. But I feel that this year, you will get a pleasant surprise you didn’t plan for. You know yesterday, I learned a significant piece of information. St Helen, or Santa Elena to us, was born here in small ton of Colchester, Essex where I live. Not proven fact but that is a compelling theory. No wonder we have schools, hospice and roads named after her. She is the mother of Constantine and founder of Jesus’ cross. She was a simple girl who had big plans. And she persevered and achieved her dream, not for personal glory but for a greater purpose. The most remarkeable thing is, she dreamed of finding the cross as a simple girl in a small town, long before she had an Emperor as a son. God paved the way for her to achieve her dream is a grand way. She reminds me of you, don’t laugh. You are probably the most inspiring Christian I know. You are so constant, when the rest of us waver you remain constant in your faith. God can’t complain, you shouldn’t too.

  3. divpang says:

    Im loving both your insights, Rab and Whathappensinbetween! I think both of you lead very inspiring lives. God’s greatness manifests in His amazing designs for each of our destinies! 🙂

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