We all have moments of feeling inadequate – whether it’s for a specific task that we have to perform or a general sense that we’re not as great as the image we project.
So, what should we do in those moments?
Modern wisdom advises to “fake it til you make it.” Highlight the best version of yourself, even if it feels untrue. After all, studies show that success “correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence.” Besides, everyone else is doing it. It’s practically the new social contract – the social media contract, if you will.
Yet there’s another option, a road less taken, that’s as radical as it is simple – be honest and show your vulnerability.
Parker Palmer, a contemporary Quaker theologian, spells out these two different approaches, naming them “ego stories” and “soul stories.” We can avoid our feelings of inadequacy by focusing on our ego stories of accomplishments and successes. Our soul stories, on the other hand, embrace hardships and failures. But because they aren’t stories where we come off looking perfect, we resist sharing them with others, or even acknowledging them within ourselves. It’s easier to ignore that part of our narrative.
These two competing ways of presenting ourselves to the world are also found within our own tradition, embodied by Pharoah and Moses, the two archrivals in the book of Exodus that Jews across the world began reading this past weekend.
Pharoah, who embodies the “ego story,” projects (over)confidence. He thinks of himself so highly that, according to some commentators, he claims to be a God. On the other side is Moses, who embodies the “soul story.” When God comes to him with the divine mission to lead the people out of Egypt, Moses responds: “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah?”
Pharoah leads with self-importance, while Moses leads with self-doubt. And God doesn’t correct Moses by reassuring him or assuaging his fears. There’s no: “Moses, I’ve chosen you because you’re so great” or “Moses, you should stop being so insecure.” Instead, God simply says: “I will be with you.” God lives in the places of vulnerability.
There’s certainly a time for confidence, but it might not be in our moments of insecurity. In fact, the Ishbitzer Rebbe says that it is forbidden to project confidence in moments of doubt. This is, of course, easier said than done. Still, behind his radical view is the understanding that the spiritual life begins where the ego story ends. To live a full life, we need to make space for our soul story. It might not lead to greater “success,” but it will lead us to greater freedom. It’s the path out of Egypt.
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