John Adams On Self-Doubt And Impostor Syndrome

Would you be surprised if I told you John Adams, who was 40ish at the time of the American Revolution, was grappling with impostor syndrome? 

Think about it: the country is about to bust apart at the seams, and you’ve got… what to offer? Besides some cozy, coddled brains and half-hobbling ideas about how things should be. How is fighting in a revolution ever a smart move for a middle-ager?!

Adams wrote these words in his diary in 1774, not long before the war began:

We have not men fit for the times. We are deficient in genius, education, in travel, fortune–in everything. I feel unutterable anxiety. God grant us wisdom and fortitude. 

Life is hard. Especially in the face of change. Always in the face of risk. 

Neil Howe adds further context in The Fourth Turning Is Here,

This is to be expected. Before any rite of passage, we doubt our capacity to achieve what almost no one alive can any longer recall achieving. 

We doubt our capacity to do what hasn’t been done before. 

Or what we think we are (possibly and probably!) unfit to do. 

This is midlife.

The trick is to go out and do it anyway. 

If we believe in it. 

If we know the future on the other side of the risk is worth it. 

As Pema would say, “Doubt with curiosity, not cynicism.”

Everybody goes through it.  

It’s always about courage.

ps. if you haven’t read it, check out my how to apply Howe piece, “The Time I Got A High School Paper Extension In A Bar: The Fourth Turning (But Not In The Way You Think)

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