Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Monday, October 31, 2016

An Imposter?

Facebook comment;
During the last week of August a retired firefighter delivered a donation of firewood to my house. I was blown away with gratitude. I blogged about it (August 31) but I also put it on Facebook. One of my facebook friends, is a clinical psychologist, workshop presenter and author. He did work for the local fire service and I met him initially in that capacity.  He commented on facebook with... 

You reap what you sow Dave! Conversely, the Grateful Dead once sung: "If you plant ice, you're gonna harvest rain". Not that I need to tell you that!!

Then my friend went on holiday and I followed his adventures on his facebook page. When he came back from holiday to my surprise he went and commented on the post again....

Six weeks later and I come back to this post, which has stayed with me since it was posted. When one radiates such generosity in life as you do Dave, then it somehow comes back in mysterious ways. Living a life based on unconditional giving is such a position to hold. All your hard work for the Fire Service, the Church, the Night Shelter and countless other worthy causes that you support, and the compassionate friendship that you offer others, builds engagement. Its the very stuff of living life well. Such a simple joy...

My reaction... I responded saying that this sounded too saintly for me..."in reality I just muddle along doing my bit."  To which he pointed out that he didn't say I was a saint, just a generous man... or something like that. I had two internal reactions. First his description of what my life was based on (unconditional giving) is in idealistic theory correct. This is the theological "ideal" I aim for. It is, to me, an essential part of being a follower of Jesus. But.... I have never talked theology with him? We have talked critical incident stress management of fire fighters. We have shared briefly running stories. I conducted his son's funeral. when he tragically died as a 21 year old. But we have never talked about my ideals in life.  So at one level, I was thrilled that somehow he had been able to see the theoretical ideals I live for in the way that I live. I was pleased about that.
But.... My reply on facebook holds true... the glowing comments about me, "can't be me, he must be mistaken?" "He does not really know me." You see I know the mixed motives and the inner "sins" and the many, many times I fall far far short of the ideals.  So my reaction is, he does not really know me and if he did, he would not say these things, and would be horribly disappointed. 

It happened again this weekend. I went down to the Church where there was a bit of a market, selling baking, displaying arts and crafts. I ended up sitting behind the baking table with a woman who has just taken over the treasurers job, thus saving the Church over $2000 a year. One of the ministers commended her on her willingness, and she pointed to me saying, "He guilted me into it!" After the minister had gone, I said that I hoped anything I had said in sermons had not made her feel guilty. "No" she responded, "I just saw how much you were prepared to put into the welfare and purpose of the Church, and that inspired me to "get off my bum". Again, I thought, "is that me she is talking about?" I led a St John Ambulance Church Parade on Sunday. We had the Salvation Army Band helping us with the music, and after the service one of the band members I had never met before came up and said, "You really are a great speaker aren't you?" "I have had plenty of practice, I guess I ought to be able to do it by now." I replied. But he went on about it. I had very positive responses from various people, and somebody put on facebook that "a great man was leading the service."  But .... in anguish, I still repeatedly asked my ever patient wife several times throughout the afternoon and into Sunday evening, "Was it alright this morning? Did it come across OK? Did I make a fool of myself?" I cannot accept accolades, I know the real me!

Impostor syndrome... I have a friend that I have run with (these days, "walk with") most Sunday afternoons for at least the last twelve years. We often debrief our week and talk over stuff during our exercise hour.  She is very successful in the field of education, working for a not for profit group who have responsibility for research, teachers professional development and other educational contracts. She has also succeeded academically, continuing to progress through various university courses with high marks. Many years ago we discovered this common feeling. We have both made the comment about ourselves that goes something like this; "One day people are going to discover that I am not all that I claim to be. One day I am going to be exposed as a fraud who knows nothing, and is just bluffing my way through my work and life." Over the years we have laughed often that both of us, again and again have admitted to this feeling. It is such an intriguing phenomenon. I do know that as a follower of Jesus I fall far below the ideals he sets before me. That is taken as read because the ideals of love are high. But this experience of, "You must be talking about a different guy?" whenever I receive any adulation, is such a consistent feeling and one I have never grown out of. My friend discovered a book called "The Impostor Syndrome" and she said she was going to read it and report on it to me. We'll wait and see. 

Wikipedia says... "Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud".[1] Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Some studies suggest that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women."
Its comforting to know it has a name and that others experience it too... though I can hardly be described as a "high achiever"!

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