It’s no secret I’m young. Many young adults compensate with height or looking older than their age, I do not. I’m shorter than most of the youth in our youth group and constantly get mistaken as one of them. My young age and small stature don’t usually bother me but sometimes it does. It’s annoying having to climb onto the kitchen counter to grab dishes and going to concerts, unless I’m in the first two rows, is pointless. But, the most difficult thing to endure is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the “psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.”
When I finished high school, I sent my kindergarten teacher an invitation to my graduation. She was an important role model and I wanted to thank her for her contribution towards who I had become. While she couldn’t make it, she did send back a letter reminiscing about all the trouble I caused in class along with a package full of assignments, art work and pictures she had saved “just in case she ever received a graduation announcement.” In the letter she commented on my size. She was terrified of how the other kids would treat me but quickly realized that what I lacked in size, I made up for in personality. This letter made me realize, I still use my big personality to compensate for my small stature. Even though it’s masked in humor (most of the time), it comes from a place of fear. In most situations, I feel the need to work twice as hard as my peers to prove that I am as capable, responsible and valid in taking up the same space as them. Somewhere down the line, someone told me I couldn’t; I’m too young or too small, I’ll get trampled on if I try. While I am all for breaking people’s preconceived notions, words stick. They make me feel like the “Fraud Police” are going to break in at any point, saying “What do you think you’re doing here? We know you can’t handle this. Why did you even try?”
I don’t wish the fear of incompetence on anyone but I do find great solace in knowing that everyone, at one point or another, has felt this. Because, if it’s not age or size, it’s gender, physical ability or a projection of one’s own fears onto someone else. No matter the delivery/words used, we have all been made to feel incapable at some point. We live in a world that turns us inward, making us painfully aware of what others have that we lack.
Thankfully, during my time in the social work program at UNT, I learned about strengths-based perspective. Strengths-based is about recognizing what an individual does have rather than what they don’t. For example: Every time I think “I’m not capable,” I counter it with “I have been capable up until this point” and “I am smart enough to figure it out even if I struggle.” Rather than letting negativity lead to debilitating anxiety, I use it as an opportunity for growth, to reach out for feedback from others and to learn from every experience.
This world has a funny way of taking our passions and torturing us with the fear of failing at them. I never stepped into youth ministry for the personal feeling of triumph and success but sometimes, in my weakest moments, I begin to scramble for any sign or signal that I am “succeeding”. I have been shaken back to center time and time again by the youth as I listen to the wise perspectives they bring to small group discussions, in watching them grow, and most importantly, in simply being in relationship with them. They remind me of what truly matters every single day. While I know I have a great deal of growing to do, there’s no room for the “Fraud Police” here.