Impostor syndrome can affect anyone, regardless of job or social status, but high-achieving individuals often experience it. This condition involves feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite your education, experience, and accomplishments. To counter these feelings, you might work harder and hold yourself to even higher standards, which can be very unhealthy. Psychologists first defined impostor syndrome in 1978, and it is quite prevalent among small business owners today.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where people feel like they don’t deserve their accomplishments. Internally they feel like a fraud, or they worry that one day someone will find out they are not good enough. When we don’t feel we deserve our success, it contributes to greater feelings of depression, inadequacy, isolation, difficulty in relationships, and low self-esteem.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
Many people with imposter syndrome grew up in families that stressed achievement and success. If your parents went back and forth between overpraise and criticism, you might be more likely to have feelings of being a fraud later in life. Society’s pressures to achieve can also contribute.
We all know that isolation and inadequacy are the enemies of entrepreneurship, and no one is immune to this. People can be very judgmental of young entrepreneurs, businesswomen (BOSS chicks), and professional single moms. Sometimes when you find out who is in the room, you can be intimidated to walk in. Sometimes people may intentionally do things to intimidate you, like asking about your revenues seconds after asking your name. (Tech entrepreneurs are especially good for that one.) It’s important to remember that regardless of where you are on your business journey, you have value and things to contribute.
Despite running a thriving B2SMB marketing consulting firm, which has operated for over 23 years, being regarded as America’s #1 Small Business Expert, and having a bestselling book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months, I have dealt with my own struggles with impostor syndrome and mom guilt throughout my life. Women entrepreneurs are especially susceptible to impostor syndrome, so let’s discuss how to overcome it.
5 Kinds of Imposter Syndrome Personalities
In her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, Dr. Valerie Young categorized people who experience imposter syndrome into five main groups.
The five kinds of imposter syndrome personalities are:
1. The Perfectionist
Perfectionists typically set high expectations for themselves, and even if they meet 99% of those goals, a small loss will feel like a large failure.
2. The Natural Genius
Natural geniuses tend to suffer from imposter syndrome, feeling that the struggle to meet their goals is a sign that they lack the ability and aren’t “good enough.”
3. The Rugged Individualist
These “imposters” struggle to reach out when they need assistance, as they feel getting help with a task invalidates their contribution or shows that their skillset is somehow lacking.
4. The Expert
You like to come into something new from a position of knowledge and expertise, and you probably regularly look for ways to improve your skillset or undergo extra training.
5. The Superhero
“Superheroes” push themselves to work harder than everyone around them to prove they’re not imposters.
12 Tips to Manage Imposter Syndrome
If you are any of these personalities, try these tactics to break yourself free from this syndrome and strengthen your sense of worthiness.
1. Remember You Are a Work in Progress.
Accept your mistakes as learning opportunities and see yourself as a “work in progress.” You will not always know the answers or hit a home run. There is value in the lesson.
2. Grow Your Skills.
Challenge yourself to learn skills you can’t master quickly. If you hate spreadsheets, take a class to understand them. If you struggle with sales, hire a coach to help you close the gap.
3. Celebrate Small Wins.
Small victories are just as important as the big ones. There are 5,280 feet in every mile. Celebrating small milestones can offer someone else hope or the key to the success they’ve been searching for. Remember that people love to hear about success in progress, too.
4. Take Note of Your Achievements.
Impostor syndrome makes us underestimate our achievements. We feel we “could have done better” or “it wasn’t a big deal,” not realizing that our peers may not have accomplished even a fraction of what we have. It’s ok to compare yourself to others! Make an inventory of your accomplishments.
5. Talk About Your Dreams and Aspirations.
It’s ok to share your dreams and aspirations before you accomplish them; you never know—by sharing them, you can attract support and strategic introductions or referrals that will help you achieve them much faster.
6. Mentor Others.
When you mentor someone else, you share your hard-learned lessons with others. The more you can share your experiences with others, the more you’ll receive connections and appreciation. Even if you feel uncomfortable broadcasting your successes to the world, push yourself you do it. Start with sharing your success with your online community, and use it as an opportunity to update your LinkedIn content. This will allow you to create social proof of your accomplishments, which helps to combat impostor syndrome. I used to believe that you had to act first before sharing your dreams or ideas, but over time, I learned that was backward.
7. Adjust Your Learning Style.
If you must be well-read on every subject to feel comfortable networking or to seek a new opportunity, it’s time to stop the insanity. Recognize that you can improvise and learn knowledge on the fly to develop your sense of worthiness.
8. Be Careful of Your Self Talk.
Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” That means that if you think you can’t, that is true, and if you think you can, that is also true. On average, we have 60 thousand thoughts a day; sadly, 80% of them are negative. Be careful not to let your mean inner voice make you feel like you don’t deserve to be in any room or that your question was stupid. There’s no such thing. Before you go to a meeting or reception, hype yourself up. Play the theme music that always makes you feel happy and confident. I’m a big fan of the song “Headsprung” by LL Cool J. It always pumps me up.
9. Don’t Ever Shrink Yourself Down.
You always have something to contribute, even if it’s a new business owner’s perspective. Don’t be afraid to share your big-picture vision for your business. I called myself America’s #1 Small Business Expert years before the world did. I spoke it into existence. Talk about your ideas and achievements, no matter how small. Each step on the path to success is worth celebrating.
10. Ask for Help.
Don’t be a hero. Learn to allow others to contribute around you too. Knowing when to ask for help is a vital skill all business owners need. The power to delegate is a good one
11. Remember Who You Are.
My favorite kid movie is The Lion King. I love this movie, the Broadway play, and even the soundtrack. My favorite part in the movie is when Simba, who has been hiding out in the woods for years with his buddies, has his father, Mufasa, come to him in a dream to tell him to remember who you are. Then, he looks down in the water at his reflection and sees himself for the first time as a real lion. The same is true for you. If you struggle with imposter syndrome, look in the mirror and remember who you are. Recite daily affirmations if you need to, and pump yourself up in your mirror, so no missiles or snide comments can hurt you.
12. Have a Healthy Definition of Success.
Find other ways to define your identity beyond your business “success.” Your checking account should not define you. How much you give or contribute to your local community could define you or perhaps a hobby you have developed. Defining your personal success in terms of your work success is setting yourself up to take setbacks entirely too hard.
Have you ever struggled with imposter syndrome? How did you get past it? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
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