Imposter Syndrome

By Hillary Asbury

“What is it worth?” Her eyes were big as she gestured to the piece hanging on the gallery wall. “I mean, all it is… it’s just wood and canvas and paint. So how much is it really worth? How much can I actually charge for this?” I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation. The woman standing in front of me was wildly successful. She owned her own gallery, enjoyed the business of high-profile clients, sold pieces for thousands and thousands of dollars. Yet here she was, questioning the worth of her work.

Imposter Syndrome is defined as “a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, and incompetence, despite evidence of skill and success.” It commonly affects high achievers, academics, and can be particularly brutal for women and minorities. It is also incredibly common in creatives. I recognized it immediately in the artist standing before me in the gallery because it is something that I, too, struggle with on a daily basis.

This particular flavor of self-doubt can be paralyzing for artists, especially when it comes time to value our own work. How do you come up with a fair price when you constantly question your own worth? How do you quote potential clients if you don’t feel you deserve fair compensation? The truth is that most of us come up with a system of pricing and just stick to it. I separate my artist mentality and business mentality and sometimes have to pretend like I am two different people doing two different jobs. It gets confusing. The short version is that we grit our teeth and just power through the doubt and anxiety, and eventually, hopefully, the more you do it the easier it gets.

Sometimes, though, that isn’t enough. It can be difficult when the lack of belief in your own value is so deeply ingrained, especially when it is consistently questioned by the outside world as well. We quote prices and are laughed at. People ask for discounts and bargains before they even know our asking prices. We are mocked for being “starving artists” and told “It’s cute you take your hobby so seriously.” Honestly, it’s a wonder any of us ever make it at all.

I always thought I’d eventually “grow out” of my imposterism, that one day I’d make a big sale or land a dream client or show in a big gallery. I thought I’d reach some kind of validating milestone and finally feel like a successful professional artist. As I stood in that gallery, though, facing a woman who definitely is a successful professional artist, I realized two things. First, I realized that sometimes it doesn’t matter how successful we are, some of us will continue to question our worth. Second, I realized that perhaps this tendency to be so very hard on ourselves is what motivates some of us to continue to work even when it seems pointless—that maybe the desire to prove ourselves ends up being more motivating than any other outside factor could ever be.

What struck me the most, though, was the thought that we Christians often suffer from a different sort of imposter syndrome—one that can be far more dangerous. Think about it. “You aren’t good enough.” “You are a horrible sinner.” “You don’t deserve salvation.” These are the kinds of things that Satan whispers in our ears all the time. Despite overwhelming evidence that Christ has won the battle for us already, the accuser constantly tells us that we are unworthy. And so some of us go around feeling like frauds, as if we somehow snuck into God’s grace and will one day be found out.

The big difference between this type of imposterism and the first type, though, is that Satan’s accusations here aren’t actually wrong. Am I good enough to uphold the Law and gain entry into heaven by my own power? No. Am I a sinner? Yep. Do I, wretched sinner that I am, deserve salvation by my own merit? Heck no. Does any of that change the fact that my salvation is secure in Jesus Christ? Absolutely not! (It takes the teeth right out of Satan’s attack, doesn’t it?)

Thankfully our Christian Imposter Syndrome has a better answer than “grit your teeth and power through.” Our hope is so much more secure than that.

Back in the gallery, as we discussed all the factors that go into pricing a painting—our educations, our experience, our expertise, the time we put into our work—my companion paused, looked at me, and said, “You know, it really comes down to what someone is willing to pay, doesn’t it? If I sell this piece to one person for a million dollars, that is what it is worth. That’s all it takes: one person willing to pay that price and that is the value of that piece.”

So there you have it. We don’t ever have to wonder about our value again. We never have to doubt ourselves or our standing. We don’t have to ask about our worth because our worth has already been decided. Christ defined our value for us once and for all when He was willing to pay for us with His own life on the cross. That is what we are worth. We were made precious, more precious than a priceless piece of art, because we were bought, for a very precious price.