by Maryellen Dance
Most entrepreneurs have heard the term imposter syndrome. If you are anything like me, you’ve been living with imposter syndrome.
For those that aren’t familiar with this term, imposter syndrome just a bunch of negative, uncomfortable, and inadequate feelings that occur even despite success. Imposter syndrome can look different in all of us and maybe you have your own name of what we call these feelings. For me, it looks like discounting my success, fear that my success will suddenly all go away, and thoughts such as “Why are people coming to me to ask this? There’s so many other smarter, better, well known people out there they should go to instead, what do I really know?”
Here’s the thing about imposter syndrome, all the experts out there, say that it’s normal. They say that imposter syndrome is all part of the process of growing as an entrepreneur. They say that imposter syndrome can be a good thing. Great, I’m glad it’s a good thing, but how in the world is that supposed to make me feel better when I am going through it? How is that supposed to help when I have a client sitting in front of me and thinking “I have no clue what to say or how to help this person”.
I’m just going to say it: Imposter syndrome sucks. For me, it takes away all my self confidence, it takes away my ability to trust myself and my judgment, and it just in general feels horrible. But, those experts are right in that imposter syndrome can be really beneficial. There are just a few things we need to do to make imposter syndrome work for us instead of work against us.
First thing’s first, imposter syndrome is normal. As much as hearing that doesn’t change or fix anything, it is an important fact to remember.
Now that we have all accepted that it’s normal…what do we do about it?
1. We recognize it. We call it imposter syndrome. We suck it up and tell our friends/colleagues/mentors/therapist whoever is a support system that we’re feeling like an imposter. That we have some days where we’re confident and feeling like we can take on the world and there’s no way our business won’t be successful, and then we have some days where we feel like we’re just faking it all and it’s going to come crashing down on us. I’m a therapist, so this may sound a little cliché, but awareness really is key.
A few years ago, I was talking to a mentor and I made some off hand comment about how I’m “really bad at anything accounting related” in my personal and business life. This person looked at me and said “Right, because you’ve built and sustained a business for over three years and grown every year, you must be really bad at accounting.” Now, I still don’t believe that I’m the greatest at accounting, but this person was right, I must know something! I didn’t even realize that I was chalking my business up to dumb luck and that’s a form of imposter syndrome, until I had this conversation. Which leads me to my second point:
2. Recognize how you’re talking to yourself. Again, maybe this sounds a bit cliché, but we tell ourselves so many stories that aren’t true (ie: “I’m bad at accounting” “I just got lucky” “It’s not a big deal if this all falls apart tomorrow, it’s just a hobby”)…these ‘stories’ we tell ourselves keep us stuck. They keep us stuck in not trying anything that is outside of the story, that doesn’t move past the narrative of the story. They keep us taking actions that fit within the story so we keep the story going and never growing…we have to change our stories.
3. Keep your ego in check. At the end of the day, it’s all about the ego, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We all have egos, and they exist for a reason. But we need to keep these egos in check, or they get out of control. Egos can make us do some weird things, like I don’t know start businesses (one of those aforementioned good things about egos) but they can also make us self-sabotage, lash out at others, and turn us all into anxious messes. All of our egos need to be kept in check so that they don’t secretly turn against us.
4. Lastly, remember those things that make you feel like an imposter? For me the most common are: “I’m too young, I don’t have enough experience” “There’s way more qualified people out there” or “Who am I to try to counsel people when my life is often a mess?” Those things, as much as they don’t feel like it, are actually huge strengths. Those are the things that probably make you amazing at what you do and make you stand out because those things show that you’re a human, that you have overcome adversity, that you are humble in knowing that you don’t have all the answers, nor should you have all the answers. Those are the things that draw people to you. The things that help others trust you. Those things are pure gold.
If we can use our imposter syndrome for us, rather than against us, then we’ve completed one of the most important steps to grow.