The Curse of Competence

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. -2 Corinthians 3:5

Many years ago, I was bemoaning to a friend of mine about how overcommitted I felt. On top of the two small children to raise, the full-time business to manage, and the marriage to cultivate were the additional tasks of leading our adult Sunday school class and then leading a group of college age students during the week. Finally, there was the mandatory ‘volunteering’ in the church nursery bi-weekly. It was a lot.

My friend was quiet, looked at me for a minute and just said, “The curse of competence.”

She explained further: when you prove yourself to be competent in one way, people will seek you out to help with other things. You will be asked, and you will be asked often. And of course, the lesson is that your boundaries have to be strong if you plan to retain any peace in your life.

But what about when you don’t feel competent at all? What about when the world looks at you as if you are knowledgeable, capable, and wise but you just feel like a big phony? What about the curse of false competence?

Let me explain: Ask me to lead a Bible Study and I’ve got it nailed. Pray publicly or speak to a crowd? I can do it. Talk about cash flow or business marketing techniques or even my creative process… now I’m breaking into a cold sweat. Because the truth is, I’ve owned a small business for over 15 years and I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I often feel like a fraud.

I’ll introduce myself at a party and occasionally someone will say something like Oh my gosh! I love The Happy Envelope! You did my sister’s wedding invitation, or, Your calendar has meant so much to me, or, My niece interned with you and had a great experience! Which are all delightful things to hear. But in the back of my head a little voice says, “Too bad you have no idea what you’re doing.”

I read a book a couple months ago called The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile. It’s all about the Enneagram, which is sort of a personality typing system. (Never fear—you’ll hear more about this later, I’m sure, because I’m completely and totally obsessed). Through this book, I learned that I’m an Enneagram 3, The Achiever or Performer. And as it turns out, this feeling of phoniness and fraudulence is totally normal for a 3. It’s called, “Imposter Syndrome.” Lots of 3s feel this way. It’s part of our makeup; it’s part of who we are.

This was eye-opening. To put language to something that I’ve always felt was a secret and hidden personal flaw—to call it out and name it out loud—was very freeing. And as it turns out, I’m not incompetent—I just feel that way.

What should we do when we see something in our nature—in our heart—that needs to change? Well, I started with my Maker. I began to pray about this feeling of incompetence. I began to pray about the gaps in my knowledge and the things I want to grow in. And you know how God responded? Very gently, with that verse at the top of the page:

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. -2 Corinthians 3:5

And then this one:

And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:19

And finally, this:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. -2 Corinthians 9:8

In other words, He said to me: I’ve got this. You don’t have to. I’ll equip you with what you need, and I relaxed a little. I breathed easier. And then I ordered a copy of the Small Business Financial Management Kit for Dummies because that I’m pretty sure that won’t hurt, either.


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