I’ve been thinking about imposter syndrome a lot. It means exactly what it sounds like: feeling like you’re a fraud, going to be found out for lying about your abilities, and that you’re not good enough at what you’re doing. And that, my friends, is a really shitty feeling. It’s more prevalent than you might think.
Don Draper (a la Mad Men) is an extreme (and, admittedly, fictional) example because he literally jacked someone else’s identity and started living their life. Eventually he ascended to a killer position as Creative Director with very little work experience beyond selling furs and used cars. He’s suave, confident, yet throughout the series you see little glimpses of his self-doubt.
In case my fictional example doesn’t do it for you, tons of successful people have admitted that they feel this way too:
- Academy Award winning actress Kate Winslet once said, “I’d wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and think, I can’t do this; I’m a fraud.”
- Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou once said: “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ ”
- And finally, Olyvia, of Olyvia.co just wrote a stirring post detailing her personal struggles of running a business. This post was a huge inspiration to writing my own thoughts on the subject.
“Why does it seem like everyone else has it together?”
In our overexposed age of social media, we have this ability to portray ourselves, our lives, and even our faces (#Instagramfilters, amiright?) however we want. We can literally curate our existence online to hundreds, if not thousands (for all you folks with a solid SM following) of people. Which means that we see other people’s impeccably curated, envy-worthy existences every day.
There is none of those 12am wine-infused nights of “am I any good at what I’m doing, or should I just quit?” or mid-day panic of “oh my god, I’m going to get fired” when your boss or clients emails you and says “we need to talk, can you give me a call this afternoon?” That’s not share-worthy. And besides, the thought is there: who would ever trust you with their business’ future if they knew that you doubted yourself from time to time?
Even off social media, it takes a lot of courage to talk about your own failings. Or to talk about your fears. Self-doubt seems like a taboo subject at times.
Entrepreneurs + Impostor Syndrome
It’s especially true for entrepreneurs. Especially at the beginning, self-employed folks have to rely on their own savvy and skillset. My high school friend had a saying: “fake it ‘till you make it.” Which is perfectly sound advice for getting to where you need to be—I’m fairly certain that anyone who has built a business on their own has ascribed to that piece of wisdom. Everyone starts as a beginner. But what that bit doesn’t cover is your internal critic that sabotages (or at least hinders) any potential progress.
And for whom relies on their abilities to sell, create, be creative, and pay attention to the details to pay their bills—conquering your inner critic is necessary for survival.
So what are you supposed to do?
Let me preface this section by saying that I have no right answer to this question. (Sorry!) But there are people waaaay smarter than me who have tackled this subject. And there isn’t any perfect answer for anyone. It all depends on who you are and how you work.
- If you’re taking responsibility for your failures, you need to take responsibility for your successes. It’s that simple. This Forbes article summed it up solidly:
High achievers tend to focus more on what they haven’t done versus what they have. Take Dr. Margaret Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization, for example. She once said: ”There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.”
- Consider negative thoughts as just a screen saver. Sounds silly, right? But biz coach and general biz badass Marie Forleo introduced me to this killer perspective: When you’re engaged with something so fully – emailing a client, getting in the “flow” whilst writing a novel, creating an awesome set of new graphics, you’re likely not going to be dwelling on negative thoughts because your brain is just too busy actually getting work done. She likens those self-doubt-y thoughts to a screen saver popping up when your computer is idle. They’re just a gentle reminder that you need to get back to the present. This video explains it perfectly:
- Stop comparing yourself. The cliché saying is “never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” It sounds so simple but it’s completely on point. Iyanla Vanzant (author) believes that “comparison is an act of violence against the self.” It’s obviously subjective—you don’t know the depths of anyone else’s story. So why waste your time?
- Understanding the difference between fear and intuition. Once again, I must credit the brilliant Marie Foreleo. She has a fantastic video about this, which is definitely a must-watch. If you’re considering turning down an opportunity because you’re afraid that you’re “not good enough,” it’s worth it to explore whether that’s actually true or not.
I wanna know if any of this resonates with you. When I read Olyvia’s article, I was beyond impressed with her courage at putting all those fears out there. Do you have any tips that have worked (or not worked) for you?