Have you ever gone for a big opportunity only to find yourself caught like a deer in headlights, questioning whether you’re really good enough? Have you ever succeeded in chasing your ambitions only to start panicking that you’ll somehow get ‘found out’ for being some kind of fraud?
Even if it feels like it right now, please know that you’re not the only one.
In fact, it’s totally normal and could even be a good thing.
In this article, I want to talk about the meaning of imposter syndrome and how you can overcome it – no matter what your inner critic is telling you right now.
So, what is imposter syndrome?
Look online and you’ll come across a few variations of what imposter syndrome means, but I think this definition in Harvard Business Review sums it up nicely: “Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.”
It’s easy to think that imposter syndrome only really happens to a select few people. It’s easy too, that it could never happen to entrepreneurs at the top of their game. But if we look back at this definition, it often happens to those who clearly have a lot of “evident success”.
Imposter syndrome is totally normal. And no matter how uncomfortable it feels, it can actually be a really good sign.
The truth is, almost everyone has moments where they doubt themselves and feel like a fraud. In fact, a study shows that a staggering 84% of entrepreneurs experience imposter syndrome, especially if they become successful leaders. So if you’re going through it right now, you can feel reassured that it has nothing to do with your actual ability and more to do with the way your brain is trying to protect you.
What causes imposter syndrome?
Can you remember your first date? Think back for a moment to how nervous you felt. You were going into the unknown and you probably felt vulnerable, nervous and suddenly very self-conscious. You might remember thoughts like this:
- “What will they think of me?”
- “What sort of first impression do I make on people?”
- “Will they think I’m good-looking/intelligent/funny enough?”
And if the date didn’t live up to expectations? Chances are those feelings surfaced over and over again on the next dates you went on, too.
Here’s another, more everyday example: have you ever switched over to a different model of mobile phone? I remember I always used to use a Nokia, but one day decided to switch to Apple. I can’t tell you how frustrating and overwhelming it was the first time I picked up my iPhone – suddenly all the tasks I’d found so simple on my old phone now seemed totally complicated.
But over time, I got used to it. And if you asked me to switch to something like a Samsung, I’d probably feel exactly the same all over again.
It’s funny how our brains react when faced with change. It really doesn’t like anything unfamiliar and it certainly doesn’t like risks. It’s easier just to tell ourselves we’re not good enough and to quit before things get too hard.
There’s a reason for this. Our brains are biased towards the negative (what we call ‘negative bias’) and perceives anything new based on our past assumptions. So if you had a bad date with someone or a terrible job interview before, you’ll start going into fight-or-flight mode to prepare for the worst again.
So while our negative bias keeps us safe from risk, it also holds us back from moving forward. It’s why we like to stay in the safety of our comfort zones where there are minimal threats.
But the thing is, that’s not where growth really happens.
As entrepreneurs, sometimes we have to be brave and take chances. Unhelpful as it might seem in the moment, that feeling of imposter syndrome is simply trying to protect us.
And if you can acknowledge that, it’s the first step in reducing its power over you.
How to overcome imposter syndrome
There’s a great speaker, John Rohn, who says: “The key to great, long-lasting success is learning to work more on ourselves than we do our jobs.”
I love that message. To follow our own path is to be rebellious and it requires true, unbreakable confidence. To achieve that, we need to work more on ourselves than we do on our jobs because, ultimately speaking, how we are personally reflects itself professionally.
That’s why, in the coaching work I do with clients, we take a holistic approach and seek to achieve balance both personally and professionally. The stronger they start to feel in themselves, the more their businesses flourish. As they become more balanced and confident, their leadership and communication skills grow too, and so they make more of an impact in what they do.
But how do we actually overcome imposter syndrome once it’s got a grip on us?
Reframe your negative thoughts
To feel that you aren’t good enough right now or that you shouldn’t be taking the next step doesn’t serve you. One thing these thoughts have in common is that they’re rooted in fear.
And it takes real courage to overcome that.
This is why it’s so important to reframe these thoughts and change your perspective. Keep in mind this thought: imposter syndrome is a sign of growth. It’s normal, it’s valid and it’s a good sign that you’re moving outside of your comfort zone towards where you need to be.
It’s an indication that you’re leaning into your edges and really pushing your personal growth.
That takes courage. Focus on the things that contradict those negative thoughts your imposter syndrome is telling you. A simple way to do this is to make a list of everything you’ve achieved so far and acknowledge it. Could you really have achieved these things if what your imposter syndrome is telling you was true? Give yourself some credit – you’ve earned it.
Reframing your thoughts this way moves them from a place that doesn’t serve us to one that does, and it’s the first step to securing that unshakeable confidence you need as an entrepreneur.
Focus on your own entrepreneurial journey
When we step out of our comfort zone and onto our own, unique (and often scary) path into the unknown, it often looks very different from the well-worn path everyone else is following.
And of course, that attracts scrutiny.
How many people have ever said to you:
- “Are you sure this is such a good idea?”
- “Do you honestly think this is going to work?”
- “That’s a crazy idea.”
The unfortunate thing is that society will have us be our own biggest critics and undermine ourselves simply so we stick to the status quo. To break free and follow our own paths is rebellious, and so people will project their own fears onto you.
But think of it this way: would you rather look back on your life and wish you’d done something more ‘normal’ and acceptable, but that ultimately didn’t fulfil you? Or do you really want to look back at your one life and wish you’d just followed your dreams despite what everyone was telling you?
Remember, this is your journey. People might think they have the best intentions, but like those negative thoughts that come with imposter syndrome, they’re often the thing that holds us back most.
Prove them wrong. Be rebellious. And become your biggest fan. Being rebellious makes up a huge part of the entrepreneurial journey and only you know what’s best for your own life.
Plus, where would the world be without role models who follow their own paths and succeed? Be a role model for others and keep going. One day you might inspire someone else to do the same.
A final word on imposter syndrome
What thoughts have you got running through your head right now about where you are in your journey and your vision of where you want to be? Do you think you’re not good enough? Not strong enough? Not smart enough?
Know that these thoughts are there to keep you safe but they’re also not true. And they’re also blocking your growth.
Reframe your thoughts and stick to your own path without the influence of others who doubt you. Believe in yourself. Be a rebel.
Sometimes it’s really helpful, when it feels like so many people doubt you (as well as you doubting yourself), to have a supporter who can help you put things in perspective, start clearing those roadblocks and support you all the way.
And that’s what I’m here to do. There’s a lot of untapped potential hidden behind that negative self-talk. If you want someone to support you, unlock that potential and cheer you all the way to success, I’d love to help you – get in touch and let’s see how we can get you there together.
Because trust me, you deserve this. And you can do it – no matter what your imposter syndrome says.