Ah, imposter syndrome. Self-doubt’s rotten next-door neighbor.
First, I’d like to clarify the difference between the two. Self-doubt is a normal part of the sticky messiness of being human. You should expect a bit of self-doubt as you chase your goals and put yourself out there. You might wonder, “Will my work be good? Will the client be happy with it? Do I have the skills needed to accomplish this goal?” If you work with these thoughts, you will reflect on them and take the necessary steps to move past them. Self-doubt and a bit of fear are ok, and should be expected when you do big things. Cool.
Imposter syndrome, on the other hand, is a tendency where your natural self-doubt morphs into something all-encompassing and debilitating. You might constantly worry that you’ll never “measure up”, and that sooner or later, people will find out that you’re unskilled, incompetent, or just plain “no good”. My clients talk about feeling like frauds, and their thoughts sound like, “What gives me the right to be here? Who do I think I am to go after this? Ugh —Who am I kidding!?”
Generally, high-achievers who have trouble internalizing their successes are more likely to experience imposter syndrome, and that’s why it is important to talk about it here in the entrepreneurial space, where industrious high-achievers dominate. What makes this even more challenging is that entrepreneurs are more likely to suffer in silence.
Imposter syndrome has a massive impact on mental health, fueling the fires of anxiety, stress, and depression. Usually shame, guilt and dread all have VIP seats at this party. These emotions, left unchecked, will drag you down by coloring your whole approach to business and life and materialize in actions such as:
- Holding yourself back and not going after what you truly want.
- Letting amazing opportunities pass you by.
- Steering clear of projects that will challenge and test you (because, if you screw things up, then everybody will KNOW you SUCK!)
Essentially, you end up “proving” to yourself that you are incompetent, laughable, and undeserving of success. Voila! A self-fulfilling prophecy.
What are some ways to overcome imposter syndrome?
Here are six things you can do, starting right now.
- Be mindful of your thoughts, and manage your inner critic. Start noticing your thoughts without judgment. Become aware of how you think about taking on new challenges, how fear shows up for you, and what you tell yourself when somebody compliments you or your work. Awareness is the first step! Start reframing your thoughts to become kinder and more reality-based. (Is it actually true that “everybody thinks” you don’t know what you’re doing? Is there evidence of that?)
- Recognize your talents, strengths and expertise. If you’re one of those folks who need “proof,” I highly recommend an assessment like Gallup Strengths. You need to acknowledge your “brilliance”—and I use that word intentionally— every one of us has a massive amount of experience, expertise, and brilliance that we bring to the table. Sometimes, you just need to get serious about seeing it.
- Reflect on what “perfect” means to you and how that concept shows up in your life. Just to be clear—nobody is perfect—there is no such thing. The most accomplished CEOs and entrepreneurs make mistakes all the time. That’s what being human is all about! Consider this: if you are not messing up, you’re not learning anything. Life would be pretty boring and meaningless if there was such a thing as “perfect”. You are a work in progress, which is natural, and OK!
- Action creates confidence; intentionally keep moving forward with small steps. Goals should be SMARTER (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound, evaluated and revised.) If you tend to avoid tasks that you don’t immediately master, it’s time to challenge your belief system. We all have certain abilities, and some tasks will take longer to figure out than others. Remember that each time you throw your hands up and think, “I’m never doing this again; I’m just no good at it,” you are making a choice that will keep you from learning and growing, and will ultimately keep you feeling doubtful and stuck. Remind yourself that some doubt and fear are normal—fear does not mean that you shouldn’t go after things that are important to you.
- Start to celebrate achievements—even “small” ones. Force yourself to outline them, reflect on wins, and be proud of yourself! Many of my clients schedule time at the end of their workweek to write down recent successes and learning opportunities. Put it on paper.
- Talk to somebody who can help. (And if asking for help feels uncomfortable, ask yourself why that is!) Speak with a good friend, EO Forum mate, mentor, therapist or certified coach. This person must be a good listener, non-judgmental and supportive. It’s extremely important to allow yourself the time and space to contemplate, reflect and create a plan for meaningful change. Remember, you are not alone—only human!
Contributed to EO by Jaime Mann, an EO Winnipeg member and owner of Econo Wall and Ceilings. She is a speaker and psychology expert on a mission to cultivate real connection in a truly disconnected and isolated world. Jaime is also the founder of The Amaryllis Project, a coaching, facilitation and advisory firm, specializing in leadership development and positive transformations that enable clients to thrive, not only individually, but in their organizations and larger communities.
Are you leading your business through crisis? EO members can log in to access resources on how to navigate running your business in crisis on the EO Learning Management System’s special section, Leading in Times of Crisis.