When I started Rektio four years ago my goal was to create a business that would serve its clients and partner with them in growth while providing a work environment that empowered our employees with tools to do their job and maintain a healthy work life balance. Most days find me doing these things and feeling enthusiastic about our future. Yet some days when I look in the mirror, I hear that voice, “You are such a fraud. Soon they will find out”
Impostor Syndrome: im·post·er syn·drome (noun): When someone who believes their own accomplishments were simply because of luck, tricking others into thinking they are intelligent, or timing. When in reality they did them on their own. It’s most seen among people who are in higher education, or high achieving jobs.
It turns out I am not alone. And it’s a diagnosis more common than you may think. In an interview about winning an Academy Award for “The Accused” in 1988, actress Jodie Foster said, “I thought it was a big fluke. I thought everybody would find out, and then they’d take the Oscar back.”
And in a cruel twist of fate, as people move up in their field or area of expertise, they are even more prone to this ideation. Because at that level they will be rubbing shoulders with even more accomplished people than ever before, making the feeling that one is a “poser” more acute.
The nature of being a business owner is a double-edged sword. You are fearless. You love a challenge. You are not daunted by new things. But here’s the rub: Entrepreneurs often feel like impostors at their businesses and in their lives because they’re constantly trying to do things they’ve never done before. Every day they’re learning new skills, and this can prompt them to feeling like they’re not really qualified to be running their businesses.
What many don’t realize is that Impostor Syndrome tends to impact those who have overcome odds and worked incredibly hard to earn their success. This in comparison to those who rely on connections or inherited wealth to attain higher rungs.
How can this be? Isn’t the very nature of someone who starts their own business that of a maverick? The person who is not afraid to take the road less traveled, turns a deaf ear to the naysayers and soldiers on in the face of adversity? How can someone who does these brave things be conflicted internally and tempted to give credence to these lies as they crop up in their minds. Our minds, which never stop but seem to churn relentlessly because we are, as a group, relentless people.
But oh, how insidious those voices can be. Who hasn’t been at a networking event on a day when cash flow is a problem, your spouse is angry, you just lost an important client? As you press the flesh and speak of what you offer your temple throbs with any one of so many lies: “You are a fraud”, “You don’t know what you are doing”, “You don’t deserve to be here”, “Your success is a fluke”, “Soon they will know….”
So how can we slay this dragon? The one that keeps us up at night and wants to drag us under? I believe that anyone who struggles with these thoughts can take comfort in the fact that they have them to start with. They indicate a humble spirit. A thankful spirit. One who is open to learning more and developing as a person. I person with doubt indicates a person with determination and a willingness to work hard toward continuous improvement.
But let’s also look at how these doubts can be harnessed for good. How can we dance with these feelings and allow them to spur us on instead of squelching our confidence? How can we acknowledge these feelings as they come and then turn them on their ear?
For many people experiencing Impostor Syndrome, the biggest opportunity may come from leaning into the unconventional path that got you to where you are today. It’s likely that you see things differently than your peers who took the predictable route or who benefited most from good luck and timing but chose to give themselves full credit. Impostor Syndrome can be a strength if you recognize it and stay focused on your achievements yet remain humble with success.
A person who can speak confidently in light of unseen challenges is one who is resilient at every turn. They have the grit and staying power to withstand the storms of business ownership and come out the other side.
It’s a mistake to assume the people around you know more or deserve their position or success more; they often just have more confidence. If you act like you belong, soon you will. Being humble and confident beats overconfidence almost every time.
Valerie Young gave a great TED Talk called: Thinking your way out of impostor syndrome
In a recent blog post she outlines 10 steps to overcoming these thoughts as they arise:
- Break the silence. Shame keeps a lot of people from “fessing up” about their fraudulent feelings. Knowing there’s a name for these feelings and that you are not alone can be tremendously freeing.
- Separate feelings from fact. There are times you’ll feel stupid. It happens to everyone from time to time. Realize that just because you may feel stupid, doesn’t mean you are.
- Recognize when you should feel fraudulent. If you’re one of the first or the few women or a minority in your field or workplace, it’s only natural you’d sometimes feel like you don’t totally fit in. Instead of taking your self-doubt as a sign of your ineptness, recognize that it might be a normal response to being an outsider.
- Accentuate the positive. Perfectionism can indicate a healthy drive to excel. The trick is to not obsess over everything being just so. Do a great job when it matters most, without persevering over routine tasks. Forgive yourself when the inevitable mistake happens.
- Develop a new response to failure and mistake making. Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Instead of beating yourself up for being human and blowing the big project, do what professional athletes do and glean the learning value from the mistake and move on.
- Right the rules. If you’ve been operating under misguided rules like, “I should always know the answer,” or “Never ask for help” start asserting your rights. Recognize that you have just as much right as the next person to be wrong, have an off-day, or ask for assistance.
- Develop a new script. Your script is that automatic mental tapes that starts playing in situations that trigger your Impostor feelings. When you start a new job or project instead of thinking for example, “Wait till they find out I have no idea what I’m doing,” try thinking, “Everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.”
- Visualize success. Do what professional athletes do. Spend time beforehand picturing yourself making a successful presentation or calmly posing your question in class. It sure beats picturing impending disaster and will help with performance-related stress.
- Reward yourself. Break the cycle of continually seeking °© and then dismissing °© validation outside of yourself by learning to pat yourself on the back.
- Fake it ‘til you make it. Now and then we all have to fly by the seat of our pants. Instead of considering “winging it” as proof of your ineptness, learn to do what many high achievers do and view it as a skill. The point of the worn out phrase, fake it til you make it, still stands: Don’t wait until you feel confident to start putting yourself out there. Courage comes from taking risks. Change your behavior first and allow your confidence to build.
Here’s another great article on the subject. I will end on some thoughts from Entrepreneur Magazine:
It’s impossible to feel like an impostor once you accept that everyone else is an impostor, too. The only thing that separates you from the successful entrepreneurs of the world is time and effort. Anything that they can do, you can do.
Too many people see great entrepreneurs or greatness in general as some kind of special thing that has to be assigned them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every entrepreneur feels like an impostor at one time or another. All entrepreneurs are trying to be better versions of themselves.