You’ve probably heard the term imposter syndrome before. It’s one of the most common issues entrepreneurs face. On your journey to grow your business, you may need to figure out how to overcome imposter syndrome, but it’s not always easy.
You might be feeling the effects of this phenomenon even if you don’t know about it. If you doubt your abilities and feel like you don’t deserve the success you have, you might have imposter syndrome.
We’ll discuss everything there is to know about this psychological phenomenon. We’ll also cover how to overcome imposter syndrome and become a more confident entrepreneur.
What is imposter syndrome?
In a 1978 journal article, psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term “imposter phenomenon”. They described it as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness.” Since that time, our understanding of this feeling has expanded into what we call imposter syndrome today.
Despite this common moniker, imposter syndrome is not a medical condition or mental health diagnosis. It is a common experience with potentially negative impacts. You may also hear this experience called perceived fraudulence, impostor syndrome, or impostorism.
Clance and Imes’s research studied high-achieving women and how they felt in the workplace.
Since then, imposter syndrome has been regarded as something that not only high-achieving women suffer from but all high-achieving individuals.
However, studies published in later years argue that women still report it more than men.
What does imposter syndrome feel like?
There is no clinical diagnosis for imposter syndrome, which means it’s usually identified when an individual self-reports it.
You may be dealing with imposter syndrome if you experience the following common signs. For example, you:
- Doubt yourself and your capabilities
- Attribute your success to external factors, such as luck or divine power
- Fear not living up to other people’s expectations
- Feel like you’ll be found out as a fraud
- Sabotage your success
People with imposter syndrome usually tend to overwork themselves and over-prepare for everything. They tend to have anxiety about performing poorly or not being good enough in the workspace.
It’s a serious issue many successful and ambitious people suffer from, and it might be hard to deal with on your own. Before we look into how to overcome imposter syndrome, we have to understand who suffers from it in the first place.
Who suffers from imposter syndrome?
As mentioned, imposter syndrome is incredibly common. One study found that 82% of people have experienced feelings of imposter syndrome. Research also suggests that some groups may be more likely to experience it—particularly entrepreneurs and high-achieving individuals.
Entrepreneurs and high-achievers
There are various reasons why entrepreneurs might suffer from imposter syndrome. For women, people of color, and other minorities, imposter syndrome can manifest due to the workspace and society as a whole. Historically, they haven’t been welcoming, and in some cases, they are even constructed to exclude people from certain backgrounds.
The latest statistics show that women entrepreneurs own only 36% of small businesses worldwide. Furthermore, the same statistics explain that there is a difference in what average business loan can women and men get—women usually get $5,000 less when borrowing to start a business.
Numbers reveal that it’s harder for women entrepreneurs to start a business. If there aren’t many examples of business leaders that are like you, it can feel like “I’m not supposed to be here,” which is one of the signs of imposter syndrome.
Families with high expectations
Your family and upbringing can also influence whether or not you experience imposter syndrome.
Clance and Imes studied how family dynamics and parenting styles influence a person’s likelihood of experiencing imposter syndrome. In their research, they identified four characteristics that negatively impacted families.
According to Clance and Imes, if any of these four describe how you felt growing up, then you are more likely to develop imposter syndrome as an adult.
- Your family valued being smart or accomplished above all else
- You had different interests than others in your family
- Your parents didn’t recognize you for your accomplishments
- You received negative or no feedback from family, and it was inconsistent with what others outside of your family told you (teachers, friends, coaches, etc.)
Adults that grew up with parents that put extreme pressure on them, may feel that they are not enough or that their success hasn’t been earned. Many also report feeling like they did not earn success or acclaim beyond that of their parents. In addition, if a child is treated poorly or regarded as unintelligent, it can be difficult for them to accept any achievements in their future.
Everyone can suffer from imposter syndrome at some point. Starting a new job, university, or business—it all feels foreign and unknown. So, it’s normal to feel as if you don’t belong. The good news is that there are ways to overcome imposter syndrome as an entrepreneur and push away the negative feelings of not feeling worthy or good enough.
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How to overcome imposter syndrome
Once you’re able to recognize the signs, you can start to think about how to overcome imposter syndrome.
Overcoming imposter syndrome may require undoing the thought patterns you have had your whole life or reshaping your narrative. As you can imagine, that is no easy task.
Also, you won’t conquer it in one day. It is a long-term goal that requires dedication and work. Be patient with yourself, and in the meantime, these steps can help.
1. Identify and accept
Before you can do anything to address imposter syndrome, you need to acknowledge that you are suffering from it.
Many people struggle to call their feelings imposter syndrome. Doing so, means you’ve accepted that these feelings aren’t healthy and you deserve more.
To determine if you have imposter syndrome, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I hyper-focus on small mistakes or flaws in my work?
- How well do I handle constructive criticism?
- Do I feel my success is because of outside factors or luck?
- Is there a constant fear that I will be “found out” by others?
Answers that include a lot of negative self-talk can signal that you are suffering from imposter syndrome. Even if you are not ready to admit it, you are more competent than you believe.
2. Recognize that you’re not alone
The first step in overcoming the imposter syndrome as an entrepreneur is realizing that you’re not the only one suffering from it.
In fact, besides other small online entrepreneurs and content creators, even the most successful high-achieving people experience it.
Some well-known people have admitted to feeling as if they don’t belong or are not good enough, including:
- Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO
- Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO
- Michael O’Brien, Peloton Executive Coaching
- Arianna Huffington, Founder of HuffPost and ThriveGlobal
It might be weird to hear that highly successful entrepreneurs, like the ones above, deal with imposter syndrome. But, you’re not alone. Especially as an entrepreneur, it’s normal to feel this way. It doesn’t mean that those negative feelings are true.
3. Write down your best traits and abilities
One of the signs of imposter syndrome is the belief that you’re not good enough. You might think your abilities are not as good as someone else’s.
When it comes to how to overcome imposter syndrome, one of the best defenses is to make a list of your best traits and abilities. Don’t just think about your skills. For example, one of your best traits could be your ability to empathize with others, which makes you a better leader and friend.
Make a physical or digital list and have it on hand at all times. When you get stuck in the routine and day-to-day of running your business, it’s easy to forget how good you are at something. Keeping a list handy can help remind you consistently of your capabilities.
Even though we all have skills we’d like to improve, dwelling on them can lead to or worsen imposter syndrome. Reflecting on your strengths and positive traits can remind you how far you’ve come.
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4. Adopt the habit of journaling
Anxiety and performance stress are a few ways that imposter syndrome manifests. Studies show that journaling is one of the best ways to cool down when you’re feeling stressed out.
Many entrepreneurs, like Tim Ferris or Amy Landino, swear by journaling for business success too. There are multiple benefits to journaling, even outside of business. For example, it can help you:
- Manage anxiety and stress
- Prioritize problems and concerns
- Alleviate fears and identify triggers that lead to negative thoughts
By writing down what is causing you stress, your brain is better able to process and manage your feelings. In other words, journaling can help you better understand your feelings and how to process them.
A specific kind of journaling may work best for you. One way to start is by writing down when you feel insecure or inadequate. Reflect on how you feel and why. You can also write down what you’re grateful for or what makes you feel confident by creating a list of business affirmations.
Many find this most useful when done in the morning after you wake up or just before bed, so when you have time to relax and process your day.
No matter how you choose to journal, the key is to build a routine that fits your life. When you do it consistently, you’ll create a positive habit of self-reflection.
5. Avoid perfectionism
Though it is not the same thing, perfectionism is often related to imposter syndrome.
Perfectionism manifests as the need to appear or be perfect, as well as the belief that perfection is achievable for yourself. It also exacerbates imposter syndrome, because you’ll always fall short of perfection.
No one is perfect. If you are a perfectionist, then you are striving for something that is not attainable. To overcome imposter syndrome, then you need to address your perfectionism as well.
Avoiding perfectionism does not mean you don’t strive to be your best. Instead, you acknowledge that perfect is impossible and not necessary. Even at your best, there are flaws and that’s okay.
Set achievable and reasonable goals for yourself. If you struggle to know your limits, start by setting timers for how much time you spend on a given task. When that time is up, stop working.
Perfectionists tend to stay inside their comfort zones to avoid making mistakes. It can seem like you’re strengthening your expertise, which it can. However, it can also stunt your career growth. You may be hesitant to try new things for fear of not being good at it.
Break perfectionist habits. Start a new hobby that you may not be good at, and use that time to allow any mistakes and learn slowly. Exposing yourself to mistakes in this way can help you integrate them into your life and even celebrate them.
6. Reflect on your accomplishments and wins
Entrepreneurs tend to always look forward—to their next big thing, next project, and launch. While it’s important to look toward the future to improve and grow your business, you also need to slow down and remember your wins and accomplishments.
Keeping track of those, no matter how small or big they are, is one strategy for how to overcome imposter syndrome.
Your past wins and accomplishments prove that you can accomplish something because you’ve already done it.
Celebrating your business and its growth is not self-indulgent. It won’t make you shallow or vain. Instead, it will only build your confidence in yourself and remind you that you’re more capable than you think.
7. Confide in a trusted mentor or friend
Imposter syndrome can feel isolating. You might be hesitant to share how you are feeling with others.
However, many entrepreneurs find it comforting to talk with their peers. Fellow entrepreneurs are probably also feeling the same way. Shared experiences with imposter syndrome can help you bond.
Your peers may also have advice that can help you overcome imposter syndrome. Studies have shown that deep reflection and examination of imposter feelings can be the most effective way of managing them.
8. Talk with a therapist or career coach
You can talk with professionals as well. Some therapists and career coaches are skilled in managing imposter syndrome.
They may recommend a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that focuses on purposefully exposing yourself to feelings of discomfort. Instead of saying “no”, you start saying “yes” to opportunities that may be intimidating. The idea is that you’ll become more comfortable making mistakes and realize you are capable of more than you think.
However, like any treatment, you should consult with your therapist to determine what is best for you.
Imposter syndrome is a common experience, especially for high-achievers and entrepreneurs.
While it can take time and dedication, it is possible to learn how to overcome imposter syndrome.
Whether you’re creating online courses, coaching business leaders, selling digital products, or something else, these tactics can contribute to your success. When you are more confident in yourself and your abilities, you can put that positive energy back into building your business.