Updated: Nov 10, 2022
Imposter syndrome is when you tell yourself you are not worthy of the position or responsibility you are given; you feel like an “imposter” pretending to be someone else and you’d much rather shirk the responsibility instead of getting it done. This usually stems from a lack of self-confidence and perhaps also from a form of laziness. It’s always easier to say that I am unworthy and who am I for these expectations to be had of me, rather than to be productive and step up to the plate.
At the same time, just because you have a certain position, or you have many accomplishments to speak of, does not mean you are perfect. Nobody is perfect; in fact while we live our lives in perpetual search of perfection, it seems to constantly evade us. The perfect person rarely exists, so when someone feels that they have reached a state of perfection, that itself is an indication that they are lacking.
So, on one hand we are expected to be consistently productive despite our shortcomings, and on the other we must work on improving ourselves with the goal of becoming the most perfect version of ourselves possible. To be sure, that is an ongoing endeavor, one that doesn’t really have an end date, short of us breathing our final breaths. Man is always in search of meaning, to paraphrase Victor Frankl.
No greater example of this dichotomy is our ancestor Abraham, who was informed by G-d that even after spending the majority of his life teaching and educating others, there was still something missing: At the age of 99 years old, he was commanded to circumcise himself. Abraham readily did so, without asking any questions, because he recognized the need for continued self-improvement, that even after living a full and productive life, there was still a need to do better.
He didn’t question G-d because this was something that he himself preached throughout his life. Anyone he encountered was encouraged to make positive changes in their lives, to not be satisfied with how much they’ve accomplished up to then and to look towards an even better future. He knew that despite being nearly a centenarian, with thousands of students and followers accumulated over decades, he was still far from done.
Being aware of his own shortcomings did not prevent Abraham from spending the previous decades being productive. He knew he was personally lacking and that one day G-d would command him to take it up a notch, so to speak, yet he didn’t allow that to get in the way of the bigger picture. He knew there was still more he needed to achieve personally, but he also knew that if he would wait around for that to happen, his entire life will pass him by and nothing will have been accomplished.
Abraham refused to fall victim to imposter syndrome. He was not an imposter, he was the most perfect he could be at that very moment and he truly believed that every person can do the same. Can we all do better? Sure. But don’t let better be the enemy of good. Do good today and do even better tomorrow.
So when G-d finally instructed him to have a bris, he was ready. He had proven himself to be willing to consistently improve himself despite 99 years of doing good. And for that he was rewarded with a special visit from G-d.
As Abraham’s descendants, there is of course a parallel to our lives. Torah’s recording the events of Abraham’s life is not just to tell us a story, but to remind us that every single one of us can have that same relationship with G-d. We too can have G-d “visit” us. All we need is to have the self-confidence to achieve great things today, and to be prepared to improve ourselves and do even better tomorrow.