No matter how much protein I added to my shakes, nor creatine I added to my protein, nor the amount of time I spent in the gym, I wasn’t getting any bigger. Sure, I was able to lift a little more, but my reflection in the mirror never seemed to be getting any more swoll.
I confided in my sister that I wore long sleeve shirts whenever I preached because I didn’t like my church to see how small my arms were.
My sister thought for a second before speaking. “I could try to assure you that you are handsome, but that’s not going to bring you any real confidence,” she said, “Instead, I want to talk with you about David and Goliath.” She pointed out parts of the story that I had missed despite having heard and read it many times growing up.
It’s several years later, and I have found my experience is quite common. Whether it’s our arms, our voice, or a myriad of other things, many men struggle with insecurity and imposter syndrome.
I recently noticed that one of my public speaking coaching clients was dreading his opportunities to preach.
“From when I was a small boy,” he confided, “I helped my dad with sound at church. He’s a pastor. I helped set up and run everything in the background. I belong in the back, behind the soundboard, not on the stage, behind the pulpit.
This client was receiving invitations from across the globe to preach. But imposter syndrome was tripping him up.
It isn’t only public speakers who struggle to speak up. An older friend of mine recently confided that he feels like he doesn’t have a voice in his wife’s or children’s lives. There’s a variety of things he wants to speak into their lives but feels he cannot.
One of two things happens when we feel this way: either we grow silent, assuming there is no point in speaking up, or we become aggressive with our voice, thinking we must justify our views and make ourselves heard. Both options hurt those around us. The former by robbing those around us of what God has entrusted us to say and the latter by bearing down on people we are meant to cultivate and protect.
Not everyone will be a public speaker, preacher, or teacher. But anyone of us may find ourselves battling anxiety and imposter syndrome like myself and the men mentioned here.
Harvard University defines imposter syndrome as:
a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.
In my experience, imposter syndrome leads to a fear that people will soon realize that you have been entrusted with responsibilities that are too great for you and above your pay grade.
To find a solution to my client’s sense of inadequacy, I turned back to the story my sister had shared with me. The way many of us heard this Bible story growing up is that while everyone else was afraid of the enemy giant, the young shepherd boy, David, told the king how he had fought off lions and bears and was ready now to fight the giant. This teaches us to respond to insecurities and fears by hyping ourselves up with encouragement about how experienced, skilled and prepared we are to do something awesome. In David’s case, it was to fight a giant and in my clients’ situation, it was to preach.
But this is an inaccurate way of telling the true story of David and Goliath. The Bible records that David instead said in 1 Samuel 17:37, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” As my sister pointed out to me, David looked at how faithful, robust, and reliable God is and found comfort and courage in Him. David didn’t try to medicate insecurity, self-doubt, and fear with higher self-esteem, but rather by turning his attention to God and esteeming Him.
Our attempts to shoot our shot, speak up in the home, at work, or on a stage might not go well. We might get ignored by our loved ones, colleagues, or audience. Our voice might squeak, and our words may fall flat.
Or maybe the opposite. Perhaps, we will be met with triumphant success. Regardless of the outcome, we aren’t defined by the result but by the fact that we serve a strong, steadfast, and reliable God.
Whether our insecurities are about our public speaking, as is the case for some of my clients, or our arms and body image, we can find comfort as men in God’s character, promises, and sufficiency.
By His strength and help, let’s turn our attention off ourselves and on to the unshakable character of God. Esteem Him, and let Him melt away our feelings of inadequacy.